sun 14/07/2024

The Little Mermaid, Bristol Old Vic | reviews, news & interviews

The Little Mermaid, Bristol Old Vic

The Little Mermaid, Bristol Old Vic

Hans Christian Andersen's heroine swims deftly between darkness and light

Katie Moore's Little Mermaid, moving 'with delicate and fish-like grace'Photo by Simon Annand

“The Little Mermaid”, along with many other classic tales, suffers from having been Disneyfied: Hollywood made sure that the shadows darkening Hans Christian Andersen’s original were softened for family viewing and his ambiguous end replaced by American-style positive closure firmly set in the mainstream comfort zone.

Simon Godwin’s production pays homage to panto without being tied to the clichés and steers a sensible path between the pain and suffering evoked by the Danish master and the need for a joyful end in which the young lovers live happily ever after.

The show takes a long while to get going as the various strands of the story, below and above sea-level, are presented a little too painstakingly and at times incoherently. The adaptation is by Joel Horwood, author of the four last Christmas shows at the Lyric Hammersmith. He has made a brave effort, closer to Andersen than Disney, aimed squarely at a teenage audience familiar with nu-folk vocals, MCs, hip-hop and singing talent contests. This is not just audience-grabbing opportunism, for ‘The Little Mermaid” deals with coming of age, parental pressures and the need to venture bravely beyond the confines of the familial and familiar. 

When she has to walk on broken glass, she does so with a mastery that communicates the acute pain most vividlyIn the now well-established genre of the art house panto, the show inevitably owes much to the styles of Kneehigh and Complicite – with live musicians on stage, assisted by Shlomo’s Beatbox-meets-doowop vocals, and a great deal of movement, that sometimes works, as in the Lecocq-inspired climbing of stairs which makes use of planks as banisters which transform into shelves laden with model boats that grace prince Will’s secret room. At others it feels heavy-handed: it seems unnecessary that the mermaid’s tail should need to be handled, puppet-master style, by an assistant, when the show’s star, Katie Moore, moves with such delicate and fish-like grace.  When, having traded her tail for feet, she has to walk as if on broken glass, she does so with a mastery that communicates the acute pain most vividly – helped no doubt by the excellent and crackling sound design which accompanies each of her footsteps.

Beverly Rudd shines with dark humour as the Sea Witch: her powerful stage presence is in danger, early in the show, of eclipsing the rest of the cast, not least the Little Mermaid herself and the young earthbound prince (Billy Howle). Their considerable charm, however, bursts forth after the interval, when the pace gathers and the palpable incoherence of the first half is replaced by a series of well-connected set-pieces in which the very accomplished set, costume and lighting finally seem more than efficient contrivances and play their part in delivering first-rate story-telling and a thrilling roller-coaster of emotions and laughter. 

  •  The Little Mermaid is on at the Bristol Old Vic until 18 January
As a kind of art house panto, the show inevitably owes much to the styles of Kneehigh and Complicite


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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