Mermaid has been brought to Sherman Cymru by Writer and Director Polly Teale. A Shared Experience and Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company co-production, Mermaid is touring across Britain, bringing an interpretation of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid into the world of today.
The scene is instantly set as you enter the auditorium and the sounds of the sea embrace you, the set brings you at first into the world of Blue, a teenager struggling with friendship circles, appearance and acceptance. The tale of the Little Mermaid is cleverly brought into today’s world, and so the alignment between contemporary pressures and the aspect of choices within the fairytale are successfully interwoven.
As Blue begins to rewrite the tale of the Mermaid, so the seemingly simplistic staging becomes a setting for the underworld, taken into a shipwreck, what was Blue’s bedroom is transformed through careful, beautiful choreography to become the two worlds, the land- encircled with themes of wealth and physical beauty- and the world of the mermaid- of simple beauty, with no need for glittering fins, instead simple neutrality, reinforcing the beauty of sound and dance- onto one stage. The mirrors and smoky glass which create the set make this simple beauty echo, and allow the fast pace of the script, across land and sea to merge yet remain worlds apart.
Natalie Gavin as Blue is wonderful as the angst ridden teen, full of promise yet compromised in the here and now, re-writing the tale allows her to hold the worlds together as a narrator and her role literally merges beautifully with the Little Mermaid. In this role, Sarah Twomey is exquisite, her movement and innocence allow the belief in the dilemma- if the Prince cannot live below water, the sacrifice to live above water should be.
Whilst keeping true to the tale, Polly Teale introduces other contemporary themes – of mass media, of war, of immigration, of suicide bombing. In some ways it becomes overly complex, so much weighed in, as the paparazzi bring in post-traumatic stress syndrome and bulimia, and of course, there is a reality that so much surrounds today’s lifestyles, and bears down the pressures. And yet, there is still a sense, that there are too many themes- I think of this play as being a reinforcer, of the messages I would like my daughter to hear from more people than me, and there is so much in this production that I know, uneasily, will be the reality of her life. And to me, a simplicity of message, of a life without access to mirrors, is a wonderful way to perceive how we may wish to live- visible to others by what we do and say, rather than through appearance.
The cast excels in bringing together the tale and themes introduced by Teale. Polly Frame is awesome as Mother, Grand-Mer and the Queen, interchanging seamlessly in what must be challenging costume and character changes, she is heart-warming in her maternal portrayal. Steve North successfully interweaves much needed humour, to break up the tense realities which underpin the fairytale. The three mermaids cleverly portray a series of roles, but it is their beauty as mermaids which create the belief in the tale itself.
In the here and now, it is the simple beauty of the play which remains with you, the reality that for all that surrounds us, it is the soul which amazes us.
Disclosure: I was invited to the production for the purposes of this review. All opinions and views contained are my own.