The babes and I went deep under the sea at the Underbelly Festival this summer. We encountered dancing mermaids in swim caps, and a sea witch who bewitched us with a Cyr hoop. Metta Theatre’s production of The Little Mermaid is a shimmering, somewhat subversive take on the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale. It blends siren-style storytelling, and both gender and gravity-bending performances to somewhat dizzying effect, giving you the sense of truly being submerged in another world.
Thanks to folklore and the popular Disney animation, most of us are familiar with the tale of the rebellious little mermaid who falls for a human. Here, we follow her journey from curious little fishtail to intrepid adventurer in the land of men, after trading her voice to the sea witch for a chance at true love. The scenes where she tries to find her feet on solid ground, having spent the earlier part of the show ‘swimming’ (or rather flying) in her element, are particularly enchanting.
There’s clever play with props and lighting, and I was tickled by the idea of ‘Ariel’ doing aerial circus stunts. I was also impressed by some of the singing in the show, that remained pitch perfect even in the midst of acrobatic feats. Occasionally, I worry that the boys and I have become a little blasé about circus. However there were several flips, twirls and one high dive in particular that left us all gasping. As always, I enjoyed looking around at the rapt little faces in the crowd, including our companions Nomita and her 9-year-old daughter Anya who afterwards said, ‘I thought it was great!’.
Ezra’s review (age 12): ‘The show was really clever how they used ballet and circus instead of just telling the original story. The acrobatics were particularly good.’
Jed’s review (age 9): ‘It was creative and I like how it told the story both in different and familiar ways. I liked the dancing!’
Anya’s review (age 9): ‘I enjoyed The Little Mermaid because rather than just being a regular play, it was also a circus and there was lots of acrobatics. I liked the story and how it was acted. I think it is a really fun show for kids and I would recommend you go and see it.’
The Little Mermaid doesn’t quite have the flash or swagger of Metta Theatre’s The Jungle Book adaptation last summer. However, it’s an entertaining family show and a refreshing escape from the summer heat on the South Bank. Get a bite to eat at the Underbelly Festival food stalls (fish and chips? *wink*), then dive right in.
The Little Mermaid is playing at Underbelly Festival, Belvedere Rd, South Bank SE1 8XX (Waterloo/Embankment tube/rail). Shows at 2.30pm & 7pm (Mon 6), 2.30pm (Wed 8-Thu 9), 12pm & 2.30pm (Fri 10-Sun 12): from £11.50 (until Aug 12)