April Nerissa Hudson and Oliver Ashworth bring the story of The Little Mermaid to life.
Picture: Pamela Raith Photography
The Little Mermaid
Derby Theatre – online
What a lovely piece of theatre for youngsters, of all ages, has been served up as an early festive treat from director Sarah Brigham.
Brigham, the theatre’s artistic director and chief executive, has had to move what was to have been a family show with a socially distanced audience entirely on-line as lockdowns and tiers dashed theatre plans yet again.
Theatre can never be the same watched on screen, being in an audience is part of the experience, but April Nerissa Hudson and Oliver Ashworth do their best to make you forget that as they relate Hans Christian Andersen’s dark fairy tale of the mermaid who wanted to become a human, find her true love and have a soul.
Andersen’s fairy tales were often dark affairs, and this Derby version, written by Mike Kenny, follows the original 1837 tale quite superbly with good humour, excellent storytelling and with a recounting of the sad moments gentle enough to ensure little ones are not upset too much, although, to be honest, most youngsters I know relish any gruesome bits in a tale – the age recommendation is from five upwards, by the way.
This is a fairy tale with sad moments and even cruel ones when the baddy of the piece, the horrible Sea Witch. is roused from her wreck. She is a lovely, grotesque evil puppet from John Barber voiced wonderfully and operated by Ashworth who grants the little mermaid her wish, but at a terrible price, For anyone who thinks this is a stage version of Disney’s 1989 sanitised cartoon, think again, this is a fairy tale which, despite some delightful acting, has dark corners and casts long shadows.
Ali Allen’s set design. centred on a wreck at the bottom of the sea, along with simple and effective costumes creating instant characters from the Sea King to princes, grandmas to mermaids, is allied to Jamie Vella’s lighting to show what can be achieved without any special effects beyond the designers art which gave us storms, seaweed forests, sunshine and the depths of the sea.
In the background is Ivan Stott’s music and sound design from raging thunderstorms to Noël Coward-style parties all helping to bring the stage alive.
Hudson and Ashworth then give life to the story with Hudson acting as narrator and the little mermaid with Ashworth as grandmother, prince, sea witch and anyone or anything else with a remarkable range of voices (voice coach Anita Gilbert).
Lockdown and tiers have meant that I couldn’t watch with my grandchildren, and I much prefer to watch children’s productions with the people they are aimed at, but at least I know them well enough, and have seen enough shows with them, to know they would have loved it and, more than that, it will grip parents and any grandparents watching with them. It is a lovely production, well directed, well staged, well acted and transferred from stage to screen seamlessly. We know it is a theatre production but the transfer has been done sympathetically and with no shortage of film skills to ensure it works on TV, computer, tablet or even mobile.
If there was a criticism, there was perhaps a chance to temper the production’s ending of despair by including Andersen’s rather happier if somewhat supernatural ending – it would have given a bit of hope, and perhaps redemption, for any potential mermaids out there. Not a big thing though, and it hardly detracts from what is a simply lovely family show well worth a look.
If there is even a hint of a silver lining in this pandemic, The Little Mermaid is now a family show that can be seen and enjoyed not only in Derby but anywhere in the UK and, indeed, the world. To 02-01-21.
The reviewed performance was with team Fish and a second cast of Joelle Brabban and Jordan Laidley, team Chips, will be broadcast on alternate days.