To call Little Mermaid a children’s show would be to do it a great disservice. Bea Roberts’ freely adapted version of the Hans Christian Andersen story is certainly child friendly and being staged in Bath’s cauldron of creativity that is the Egg, we might be tempted to leave it at that. Yet this is a show that could sit happily on any of our stages. Big in imagination, big in talent and big in ambition, it is, in Ms Roberts’ hands, that gold standard of fantasy, a perfectly realised parallel universe – under the sea.
Co-directors, Emma Earle and Cameron Carver have packed their allotted time with invention, charm and wit with hardly a second left unattended. Simple devices act as sparks in a powder keg to the imagination. Conventions such as the use of fans for flippers and fins are meticulously applied with never a hint of the slapdash that could have blurred the clarity of vision. The talented shoal of submarine creatures never let the ball drop. But the joy of it is that each one is a well-turned miniature.
The princesses, all four of them, whilst to some degree recognisable without being easy stereotypes, are nevertheless written and performed with care and humour. The little mermaid herself, Morgan (Anna Wheatley), the same age as Juliet and with the same spirit and determination, is however (as things turn out) as unconventional as a princess could be. It is a lovely performance with movement that all the time suggests she is outgrowing her body and ready to slough it off for a newer freer one. Not for her the restrictions of court protocol. In an inversion of the original Danish story, Morgan swims up to the human world to avoid marriage to a prince.
Escaping from the palace she visits her aunt Celeste in the coolest (i.e.hip) of under-sea jazz clubs where she is given the potion that will get her fitted out with some human legs and lungs. Duly transformed she finds herself in 80s Torquay where a bunch of hedonist hoorays adopt the curious non-English speaking newcomer as a bit of a novelty. Luckily one of the group, Ronan (Emile Clarke) just happens to be a Selkie and can translate from Morgan’s ‘Mer’ language, which he passes off as Swiss. With her time amongst the humans running out she just manages to avoid marriage to the delightfully narcissist, Hugo (Timothy O’Hara) and in another inversion saves the life of her true love, Laura (Georgia Frost) who, in a wonderfully realised drowning scene, is saved by a mermaid’s kiss.
Songs (by the author) choice of music, costumes, lighting and set design are all of a piece in adding to the whole. If you have small folk drag them along, if you haven’t go anyway. By all means see a panto for a bit of seasonal silliness, but don’t miss this as a theatrical treat. ★★★★★ Graham Wyles 14th December 2017
Photo by Nick Spratling