World premiere production of MERMAID at Watford and Oxford

Critically-acclaimed company Shared Experience is renowned for its thrilling adaptations of literary classics and their new production of Mermaid is bound to delight audiences both at the Watford Palace and the following week at the Oxford Playhouse. This bold re-imagining of Hans Christian Andersen’s classic tale is at The Watford Palace Theatre until the 16th May and comes to the Oxford Playhouse stage from 19th-23rd May.

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A mermaid rises up to the surface on her 16th birthday, leaving her childhood behind forever when she falls in love with a mortal prince. She knows that she can no longer live at the bottom of the ocean, but must she give up her voice in order to be loved? This grown-up re-telling explores the social pressures young women face today, and themes of sexuality.

Plundering this haunting tale for its dark, erotic, mythic power, writer and director Polly Teale (Mary Shelley, Brontë) transports the story to a contemporary setting in this spellbinding new production. The show is designed by Tom Piper, who recently created the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red poppy display at the Tower of London.

Both theatres have recruited a local chorus of young women aged 14 to 20 who will be part of the production, providing an exciting opportunity to perform live on the Playhouse stage with a professional company.

Don’t miss this haunting re-telling of a much-loved fable from a renowned company.
Mermaid is at Watford Palace until 16th May & Oxford Playhouse from 19-23rd May.

Watford Palace Box Office: 01923 225671 or online: www.watfordpalacetheatre.co.uk

Oxford Playhouse Box Office: 01865 305305 or online: www.oxfordplayhouse.com

Judi Herman saw Mermaid at Watford and was enchanted by a hauntingly beautiful retelling of The Little Mermaid

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Writer/Director Polly Teale and her company plunge into hidden depths of Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Mermaid that would come as a shock to Disney. This gorgeous haunting production shifts like the sea itself through themes of growing up, of taking tottering steps towards self-knowledge and first love, taking in the perils of peer pressure, especially in the age of social media, of celebrity and consumerism – and all this against a backdrop of war and terrorism too.

Shared Experience weaves a stunning tapestry of sound and stage pictures, thanks to a tight company of performers working in close harmony with Teale and her creative team, designer Tom Piper (responsible with ceramic artist Paul Cummins for the unforgettable installation of poppies at the Tower of London), lighting designer Oliver Fenwick, Composer/Sound Designer Jon Nicholls and Choreographer and Movement Director Liz Rankin.

The mysterious shifting blues of the ocean suffuse the stage and below the living space of the mortals in the story, which proves as precarious as a sea-side jetty, the graceful mermaids frolic and sing their enchanting song. Their story is woven by Blue (appealing Natalie Gavin), the aptly-named teenager who finds solace in reading when she doesn’t get invited to a part by her fair-weather mates, just because her recently-redundant Dad can’t afford the right designer trainers.

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The Little Mermaid herself is the wonderfully expressive and dainty Sarah Twomey, who along with her equally attractive sister mermaids ( Miranda Mac Letton, Amaka Okafor and Ritu Arys) seems to float in unseen water. These girls don’t need tail costumes – you think you can see their tails twisting and turning as they weave wonderful patterns together beneath that jetty. And their singing is truly as beguiling as the legendary sirens’ song, thanks to the magical music Jon Nicholls has composed for them (augmented by a chorus of local teenage girls, who get to join in workshops on the themes of the play).

There is of course a handsome prince (convincingly troubled Finn Hanlon), enchanted by the mermaids’ song and almost lost in a storm at sea on his way back from playing his part in a war against terrorism, until Blue and her finny alter ego come to the rescue. And so he falls for his translucently beautiful Little Mermaid, now as mortal and land-locked as he. She has of course paid a terrible price to the Sea Witch who grants her wish to be mortal. As readers of Hans Christian Anderson will know, she has literally lost her tongue and every step she takes with her new-found legs is like walking on knives. Her tentative waltz, supported in the arms of her prince, is heart-breakingly beautiful.

Teale gives her plight a great contemporary twist as she totters on impossibly high heels in the glare of the media spotlight once the Queen eagerly takes her on as desirable fiancée for her son. She becomes the subject of intense speculation – when will the marriage date be fixed and why does she never speak (could she even be anorexic?)? In a programme note Teale draws a clever parallel with Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, who is much photographed but little heard.

There is tremendous support from Polly Frame, morphing effortlessly from Blue’s mother to the aptly name mermaids ‘grandmer’ and regal, pushy Queen; and from Steve North as her hen-pecked King and various other adult figures. The girls too get to play other roles – out-of-control teenagers, the hungry press pack – and the sinister Sea Witch with her writhing tentacles.

So this is a deeply satisfying show on every level, which will indeed continue to haunt me.

Judi Herman

Watford Palace Box Office: 01923 225671 or online: www.watfordpalacetheatre.co.uk

Oxford Playhouse Box Office: 01865 305305 or online: www.oxfordplayhouse.com

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