Polly Teale’s adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s Mermaid plunges us into a dark, poignant and troubling tale. This refreshingly original performance portrays a coming of age story about the little mermaid, played by Sarah Twomey, who longs to swim above the waves. When she turns 16, she falls deeply in love with a human prince, portrayed by Finn Hanlon, and the overwhelming infatuation compels her to sacrifice her own world for his.
The first and most striking element of the play is the unequivocal dedication on behalf of the mermaids to swim across the hard wooden planks of the stage. The actresses Ritu Arya, Miranda Mac Letten and Amaka Okafor all twist and contort themselves around the undulating levels to produce an undeniable fluidity to the performance. The stage set, designed by Tom Piper who recently created the ceramic poppies around the tower of London, was masterfully constructed. The upper level represented the human world and the lower was the ocean where the mermaids danced with flashlights and crashing waves, creating an underwater utopia.
The performers engaged with every inch of the space as they surrounded the vulnerable little mermaid on her quest. Once infatuated with longing to be united with her prince she makes a deal with the witches who viciously cut out her tongue. This scene may prove too explicit for some audience members but as she stares outwards with red blood dripping down her dress, we empathise with the mermaid’s fundamental mistake.
The highlight of the play is this silent performance of exaggerated movements as she represents a woman in society without a voice.
When she is submersed into the human world of irrationality, vanity and pain, the play transports us to the uncomfortable truths of the 21st century. She becomes inherently self-conscious as she is twisted and moulded into a dress and smothered in make up. The highlight of the play is this silent performance of exaggerated movements as she represents a woman in society without a voice. The underlying references to modern day royalty such as Kate Middleton and Princess Diana are exemplified by the intrusive voiceover of a news report on anxiety and weight loss. The press are artfully and explicitly demonised as they storm on stage with flashlights to blind the audience with impertinent questions and this hyperbole, although satirical in places, allows the prince to parade her around the stage like a doll. His actions explore the brutal conventions of beauty as the mermaid falls into a deep depression and the audience is confronted with a society that places appearance over self.
The performers engaged with every inch of the space as they surrounded the vulnerable little mermaid on her quest.
This excellent portrayal is fundamentally a story of loss as a vulnerable young girl chooses to sacrifice her own voice, literally and metaphorically, for the approval of a man. The breathtaking stage set, well conceived costume designs and perfectly portrayed characters combine together harmoniously to make a gripping, exhilarating performance. The ending allows the mermaid to swim back under the waves into a limitless world without judgement. We, however, cannot slip back into our own childhood and so are forced to accept the brutal judgement of our society, leaving the audience with a widened periphery and realisation of our modern world.
‘Mermaid’ is running till Saturday 21st March. For more information, see here
Images credited to Robert Day