Thursday, 19 March 2015

Review Mermaid at Nottingham Playhouse/Shared Experience

Nottingham Playhouse are really doing themselves proud these days and their latest collaboration with innovative theatre company Shared Experience is no exception. Polly Teale has adapted and directed the story of the Little Mermaid for the 21th Century. Thankfully, we see no Disney schmaltz in this stage production. Instead we have a gripping and emotionally taut tale of two worlds: the unselfconscious life of the mermaids in the depths of the oceans and the human life that exists on the land and sometimes encounters peril on the seas.

All is atmospherically set (designer Tom Piper) on a raised area surrounded by the seemingly cavernous and rusting walls of a sunken wreck. The performers use every inch of the stage to mesmeric effect and the rapt audience are so quiet during the story that you could hear a pin drop into the theatrically poetic ocean.

Shared Experience are well known for tackling text head on and devising new interpretations of story-telling and pioneering distinctive performance styles that celebrate a union of physical and text based drama. Mermaid is certainly a very physical piece and the actors playing the mermaids; Miranda Mac Letten, Ritu Arya, Amaka Okafor as mermaids one to three along with Sarah Twomey as Little Mermaid are exceptional in their physical dexterity. The three numbered mermaids morph into a variety of characters during the show. One second we see them being a sad selection of vacuous teenage girls hell bent on making a misery of a school friend's life and next as royal courtiers or a frightening gaggle of sea witches. Their costume changes are staggeringly quick.

As the Little Mermaid newcomer Sarah Twomey shines in her depiction of the inquisitive mermaid desperate to discover human life with all its joys and horrors which she discovers in a search for love and self love. Her speechless pleas to her would-be Prince lover are heart breaking as is her desire to be loved and the indignities suffered to gain human love in a stuffy royal court. An announcement that Twomey has sustained an injury prior to the show and is to be performing the role in a less physical way doesn't reflect whatsoever on her delicate and considered performance tonight.

Woven throughout the story is a central character called Blue. Blue is played with sensitivity and energy by Natalie Gavin. Blue is also the teenage girl viciously teased at the start of the play by her so called school friends for the way she looks and acts. The cruelty reflects the reality of extreme styling by girls to win or attract attention from their contemporaries and boys or men. Throughout the play there are constant references to mirrors, critical gaze and a sense of self in people of both sexes. Gavin's Blue documents the story during the play in a big book and, in a sense, directs the action through a force of will and growing self confidence often linking herself deeply with the mermaid.

Blue's mother, played by the wonderfully versatile Polly Frame, is portrayed as a woman suffering parental frustrations as well as being exasperated by the attitudes of her unemployed husband. Frame also plays Grand Mer the older mermaid and the haughty Queen in the royal household in several miracles of quick change.

All of the actors are tremendously flexible not only in the divergent parts they play but in the hard physical work and necessarily supple nature of the piece. The two men in Mermaid portray the emotionally crippled and physically drowned soldier Prince (Finn Hanlon) and the King (Steve North) plus fishermen in a stormy sea. All of their characters stand up well in a sea of actresses.

Much of the terrific atmosphere is generated through sounds of the sea and of waves and undercurrents that batter the mermaids across and under the stage. The sound scape is created by composer and sound director Jon Nicholls. Equally thrilling is the live tonal singing by the mermaids and the supporting songs from a chorus of twenty-six young girls who sit as witnesses at the sides of the set. Director Polly Teale wanted the local girls in the work to bear witness as the girls on stage face the challenges of being a young woman in a complex world. As the plays tours other local girls will be involved in this way and they will all take part in a nationwide project that accompanies the show and looks at the effect of the media on girls' sense of self and empowers them to challenge myths about femininity.

This poetic stage adaptation is as profoundly deep as the ocean itself and its universal themes of separation, desire, loss, loneliness, and pre-occupation with appearance to please others are very evident and beautifully demonstrated with Shared Experience's thrilling style on stage tonight. As a piece of theatre it works swimmingly well.

Mermaid production photos credit Robert Day

1 comment:

Alan Dawson said...

Great review. Not had chance to see it. Will look out for future productions by this company.