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The Little Mermaid

Tuesday, 23 August, 2011

Family Drama

Edinburgh 11 – The Aviary @ Zoo Venue No 124 – 05–20 August

From the Hans Christian Andersen story

The Little Mermaid is a physical retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s story by Jackinabox productions.  In which a mermaid (Ariel played by Olivia Fisher) becomes a woman in order to win the heart of a prince.  It is designed for families.

From the start Jackinabox’s approach is predominately physical and inspired by contemporary theatrical practice.  Ariels sisters (Andrina played by Georgia Brown, Attina played by Lily Marriage and Aquatta played by Pippa Pearce) perform as the audience enters, moving in and amongst the seating.  After the auditorium is dark the Prince (played by Alastair Philips) emerges from the seats.  None of this is original but it is done simply and softly, and avoids cliché. Children will find these simple devices enthralling.

Haley Thompson and John Askew’s (who also direct) script is largely composed of narrative embellished with small sections of dialogue.  There is more narrative than dialogue which allows the company to enact the story with vivid and dynamic movement.  These movement sections are the pieces strongest feature.  The young ensemble are strong movers slickly directed and not afraid to take risks.  Closer to dance than physical theatre the movement keeps young and old rapt the only criticism being that on occasion the narrative comes close to being lost amongst the energetic activity.

The production’s dialogue is less assured.  Thankfully it is aware of this and keeps scenes with dialogue short and simple and incorporates movement into them.  The result is always engaging and some occasions quite beautiful, a standout scene  being the rejection of Ariel by the Prince which is as moving as anything I have seen on the Fringe this year.  Not every scene is as assured, and protracted dialogue does expose weakness in the performers but whenever this occurs canny direction keeps things engaging.

Set design is kept uncomplicated – nets, crab cages and other nautical debris being strewn round the corners of the stage.  Its not very impressive but it is very effectively lit by Katie Lambert who has a brave approach to colour and lamp positioning.  Whilst the sound design is also effective – Stephen Matthew’s music is well composed and a evocative and Jack Davies. Lyrics fit the story well – there needs to be more music to cover the sounds of the casts moving, and the music needs to mix in and out of the action more smoothly to maintain the organic feel that rest of the production generates.

All the performers acquit themselves well and in a production with such a strong ensemble values it would seem unfair to single anybody out.  Joining those already mentioned are David Brennan as King Triton and Emma Cooke as the Princess.  Like all their  colleagues they are young, have a great deal of potential and are to be congratulated for their enthusiasm and commitment.

The Little Mermaid is advertised as for an ‘audience of all ages’.  It is certainly not guilty of patronising its younger viewers, however, it is not clear wether or not it will be truly suitable the very youngest so vivid are some of the scenes.  Jackinabox should be hugely congratulated for this piece which is accomplished, vivid and impressively theatrical.

Cast CreditsDavid BrennanKing Triton.  Georgia BrownAndrinaEmma Cooke – Princess.  Olivia Fisher – Ariel.  Lily Marriage – Attina.  Alastair Philips – The Prince.        Pippa PearceAquatta.

Company Credits: Writers – John Askew / Hayley Thompson. Directors – John Askew / Hayley Thompson . Technical Operator – Rachel Bredbury. Producer – Francesca Isherwood. Company – Jackinabox Productions. Website – http://www.john.eborlex.co.uk/website/.

(c) George Maddocks 2011

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