By Flossie Waite
Created by Tessa Bide
Touring until 23rd November 2014
Marina Skippett isn’t feeling like herself. In fact, she is feeling so muddled that she can’t seem to get her cardigan on right, pushing legs into sleeves and flopping material over her face. This is just one of many charming and hilarious examples which show that Tessa Bide, writer and performer of The Tap Dancing Mermaid, understands children in a way that can’t be taught. However, these moments are like a collection of patchwork pieces that haven’t quite been sewn into a cohesive quilt.
Marina Skippett loves tap dancing, but her fearsome aunt is not so keen. Banned from tippetty-tapping in the house, Marina sneaks out each night to dance by the sea, and it’s there that she meets Leo, a boy swimming in the water…
The Tap Dancing Mermaid has it all – it is narrated by the moon; is performed partly with puppets; includes audience interaction, from the traditional ‘He’s behind you!’ to a chance to hold treasures from the sea; there’s even a sing-a-long and, of course, tap dancing. But, in this case, having it all is a bit too much. Bide is in the enviable position of having too many good ideas, but they can’t all fit comfortably within the same play. There were moments that hadn’t quite earned their place in the story, such as the song. A better balance could have been struck between the different means of telling the narrative – much of it was told by the moon and through conversations between Leo and Marina, and at times this was too lengthy, a change of pace that lost attention and was hard to follow. On the other hand: the aunt puppet (created from a lampshade and constantly blowing her fringe out of her face); the audience becoming the echo for Marina’s tapping; the exquisite set with a seagull peering round to look at the audience – these were all ingenious.
Bide’s first solo show for families is ambitious, and at points she really connects with the audience in a thrilling way. If she can expand these best bits (and you imagine a writing, directing, performing, puppeteering, tap-dancing one-woman whirlwind can do anything she sets her mind to) then Bide’s next production is one to watch out for.
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