Mermaid mixes the real with the supernatural in a modern reworking of Andersen’s classic fairy tale.
Shared Experience is an award-winning theatre company with a reputation for imaginative adaptations of literary classics, thanks to writer and director Polly Teale. The Little Mermaid, like many old fashioned fairy stories, is built on dark and dangerous themes, and Teale’s updated version shifts this coming of age story into the modern era, throwing in some contemporary issues that serve to raise the discomfort, disquiet and disturbance up a notch or two.
It also raises the knotty issue of whether any real progress has been made regarding the perception of femininity and the role of women, or whether the issues today are the same old wolves merely dressed in different clothes.
In this reworking, Blue, a young girl on the cusp of womanhood, is bullied and rejected for not having the right clothes and liking the right things. Her main crime is her family’s lack of money and status. She works through her bitter and sorrowful teenage angst, learning to accept herself as she is, by rewriting the tale of the Little Mermaid. The crippling self-awareness that attends the burgeoning self-awakening, arouses desperate feelings of loss and longing: loss of innocence, naivety and wonder and a longing in the form of sexual desire. Blue and the mermaid get through this together.
It was beautifully done, with a raised platform leaving space around and beneath to imagine a sea in which mermaids frolic, the whole stage area surrounded with mirrors of tarnished and mottled metal that created eerie, shimmering reflections. Urns full of water lay about in this sea, waiting for the mermaids to dip their heads in, so they could appear wet and glistening when they needed to rise to the surface.
Nor did they skimp on the shock or the pain, with a brutal depiction of the mermaid’s tongue being cut out, the blood gushing out of her mouth and splattering her body. Coinciding as it does with her loss of innocence and pursuit of sexual desire, this acts as a powerful metaphor for menstruation and the shattering changes it ushers in. As would-be princess, the mermaid is waxed and painted, squeezed into clothes and forced to totter in killer heels. As she fails to find love and mourns for what is lost, she begins to waste away, and the media’s praise of her slender physique turn to rumours of her bulimia and mental ill-health.
There is much to admire in this adaptation, but it rather threw everything including the kitchen sink at the story and lost clarity and impact as a result. Frustrating, as this is a good edit away from being a really powerful piece.
Runs until 9th May