The Little Mermaid*** (Riverside Studios, 11 December 2013)

Posted: December 12, 2013 in Theatre

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews:

Titles can be misleading, so it needs to be stated that this is not a stage adaptation of the Disney cartoon nor is it a Christmas pantomime version of the famous fairy tale. It is in fact a thoughtful study of the links between the story of The Little Mermaid and events in the life of its creator, Hans Christian Andersen. Coming from the Blind Tiger Theatre Company, the production which is performed by actor/musicians, uses music inspired by Danish folk songs and draws from journals, letters and diaries written by Andersen himself. In the fairy tale, The Little Mermaid is cast out from her home in the sea and, alone onshore, she craves love from the prince who can never be hers. In real life, Andersen is parted from his family in rural Denmark to live in Copenhagen, where he forms fraternal bonds with Edvard, the son of his patron, but has to accept that his love for Edvard can never be fully reciprocated. The two stories are related as reflections by an elderly Andersen (James Earl Adair) and their progress is deliberate and unhurried, making the production extremely slow to get into its stride. In the early stages, there is hardly any humour, a little music but not enough of it and the staging is rather static. However, when the play begins to grip, it is the real life story that takes the strongest hold and this is largely due to an endearing performance by Anthony Pinnick as the young Andersen; he captures perfectly the spirit of a creative idealist, confused by his emotions and unable to put down roots in the real world. Stu Mansell, playing both Edvard and the Prince in the fairy tale creates two characters that are more grounded but always sympathetic. Claire Francis makes a delightful Little Mermaid, contrasting with Erla Brynjarsdottir’s splendidly spiteful Sea Witch, whilst Jennifer Johnson sings sweetly as the Swedish opera diva Jenny Lind and provides some brief comedy as an insolent maid. The writing, which uses Andersen’s material verbatim in many instances, has a lovely lyrical quality. Being slow, wordy and without spectacle, this is not a show that is likely to appeal to younger children. However, taken as an antidote to the traditional feasts of family fun on offer at this time of year, the production has got a lot to offer. The Little Mermaid is always an enchanting tale, but, with the additional dimension that it is given here, it becomes a wistful hymn to the pain of unrequited love. A Christmas show with a difference.

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