The Little Mermaid

Fri 5th – Sat 20th August 2011

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Bethany Knibb

at 10:35 on 17th Aug 2011

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When Hans Christian Andersen wrote The Little Mermaid, he wrote it as a ballet and, though the story has been adapted somewhat, Jackinabox Productions have recaptured the beauty and grace that was originally intended by making this principally a dance production.

To those among us who better know “The Little Mermaid” à la Disney; think classical. It’s all pretty similar (though no talking crab) until the prince is about to marry the princess he thought had saved him when, moments before Ariel’s heart breaks, the Sea Witch returns her voice (she had only wanted Ariel to feel the isolation she herself had felt for so long) and the prince declares his love (happy ending).

This is quite overtly a celebration of ‘the fairytale’ from York University, as they tie together the various elements of theatre – dance, physical theatre, song, drama, and costume and scenery – to create a magical production for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The choreography is certainly a highlight, almost certainly attributable to the cast’s impressive dancing experience in the form of Hayley Thompson, Georgia Brown and Lily Marriage. With only two boys in the cast, they do well to pull off the number of impressive dance lifts they do and I was surprised that Alastair Philips, the prince, did not have more past dancing experience.

This is aimed at a family audience and the writer/directors (John Askew and Hayley Thompson) make this a more engaging production by emphasising the storytelling element. The dance is also beautifully choreographed not to interfere with the communication between the characters and enhances “The Little Mermaid” beyond what the cast would be able to do with words and actions alone.

Despite the Sea Witch being sinister and, at times, quite frightening, it is still a good choice for children. The dark moments just give “The Little Mermaid” more heart. The cast work very well together as a group to create an enchanting atmosphere and it is obvious the time they have put into making this a water-tight production.

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sophie ainscough

at 15:57 on 17th Aug 2011

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Visually the Little Mermaid is a little girl’s dream – its set adorned with fairy lights, bracelets, shells and candles, its mermaids with flowers and ribbons, shiny dresses and glittering skin. The beauty of the royal, watery world is magically captured through the stage design and costume. This worked most effectively when the lights were dimmed, such as in the first scene with the sea witch, where the make-up and costume gave an otherworldly appearance and overall underwater feel. When the stage was more brightly lit the effect of this was reduced and the make-up appeared a little more garish.

Directed and scripted by John Askew and Hayley Thompson, this sensual production introduces physical theatre to Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fairytale, the mermaids wearing ballet shoes instead of unwieldy tails. The content of the story invites the inclusion of dance, since Ariel when transformed into a human is praised and much admired for her nimbleness of foot, moving like a mermaid on water. Wide eyed Ariel is performed beautifully by Olivia Fisher, capturing both the vulnerability of her character against the sea witch and against love, and also her determined strength, sacrificing her voice and enduring continual pain in her feet, all for the love of a prince whose life she saved in a storm.

Hayley Thompson’s choreography gives the mermaids’ movement a fluid elegance, which is broken only on a couple of occasions and in a moment of shakiness in the challenging opening scene. The music used cohered well with the infinitely enchanting, fairytale thread of the play, although there were times in some of the dancing scenes when music was needed to divert from the sound of thumping feet, which distracted from the expressive nature of the dance in those scenes which weren’t tumultuous and where additional noise was unwelcome. One of the early dance scenes also combined dance and spoken lines, something it would have been better to avoid, the tone and expression inevitably lost in breathlessness.

Virginia Althen is brilliant in her portrayal of the cruel and envious sea witch, her character made more convincing by a brief glimpse into a sensitive, isolated side – “we are not so different Ariel, you and I”. The interesting dynamic of power and suffering between Ariel and the sea witch makes scenes between them a definite highlight, the torment of Ariel brilliantly captured in the red and blue lighting and tortured movements of the choreography.

The use of dance is moves the production away from a solely child audience – a little girl in the audience whispering “the witch is funny, she walks funny”. Thus the Little Mermaid is dual in its appeal to adults and children, reflecting the nature of the sinister fairy tale itself, the dagger glinting red as Ariel contemplates the murder of her love to save her own life in a tale interchanging humans and mermaids, family loyalties and love.

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