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Mermaid (Susan Elkin reviews)


Drama Studio London.

Tristan Bates Theatre

Polly Teale’s highly imaginative and evocatively beautiful take on Hans Christian Andersen’s darkest fairy story is an ideal choice for a drama school. Its ensemble structure really showcases the talents of the eight graduating students (six women and two men) in the cast.

Lea Anderson’s sensitive innovative direction capitalises on otherwordly balletic movement for the underwater scenes and haunting siren-esque, whale-like song as the mermaids call to each other and to the world above. The mermaids wear short flared black tunics (over tights) which float as they move. Then when they play other parts they simply add different clothes on top with all the dressing taking place at the back of the playing space.

There is outstanding work from Nell Bradbury as Blue. She starts as a petulant, distressed teenager in dungarees – all sneers, shrugs and pain. Then as an escape from her well meaning but overbearing mother (Maria Hildebrand who doubles as Grandmer and Queen) and from her partying “friends”, Bradbury’s character morphs into a narrator, impassioned and ever present in every sense. The conceit is that she is inventing the story as we watch it unfold. She has a real gift for a wide eyed gaze thrown far beyond the audience. Moreover Bradbury has the ability you see in, for example Anna Maxwell Martin and Emma Thompson to blank her face off completely and then light it up. She is one of the most compelling young actors I’ve seen in a while and very castable. So remember where you first read her name.

Also very enjoyable is Emma Riches’s performance as the Little Mermaid. She nicely captures the question-asking intensity of the curious child at the beginning. Then, yielding to feelings she doesn’t understand she meets her mortal prince. It famously costs her her voice at the whim of a terrifying theatrical tour de force – a six headed, twelve legged (and perfectly choreographed) witch, malevolent, predatory and panting.

Teale’s writing is pretty political although she spares us the nasty ending of the original tale by inserting an upbeat feminist twist. She uses her mermaid colony to comment – and the dialogue is incisively delivered in this production – on the curious behaviour of human beings. They wage war relentlessly perhaps as a way of dealing with their own mortality. They establish hierarchies which mean that people at the top – royalty in this play – seem troubled and dysfunctional. They create “a world full of pain and suffering”. Spot on for the current political climate in Britain, really.

 Originally published by Sardines


Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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