‘Did you ever go to Silversands on a sunny summers day? Then perhaps you saw the mermaid who sang in the deep blue bay…’ This isn’t the first story in which a mermaid’s beautiful voice is exploited by an evil villain, but The Singing Mermaid draws greater parallels with another famous Disney film. Transported from page – Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks’s picturebook – to stage and performed with puppets, the vocally-blessed mermaid’s predicament feels a bit like Pinocchio’s: she is lured into joining a travelling circus by a greedy, sleazy ringmaster who pockets all the profits from his star act whilst keeping her trapped under lock and key. Packed with a variety of circus acts – from Eugene the juggling unicyclist to Ding & Dog the performing dogs who have a serious case of stage fright – and, required of a show about a warbling aquatic creature, several musical numbers, co-adaptors Samantha Lane and Barb Jungr have turned a book ripe for theatrical interpretation into a charming show.
From the guppies and jellyfish under-the-sea to the clowns and acrobats of the circus, The Singing Mermaid is a showcase of Lyndie Wright’s wonderful puppets, expertly manoeuvred by performers Samantha Sutherland, Lizze Wort and Phil Yarrow. As puppeteers, the trio completely melt away, so that the circus acts’ physical feats seem genuinely perilous and impressive, and their slapstick routines completely unintentional and hilarious. Yarrow is very funny as the corrupt ringmaster Sam Sly, whether cracking out dad jokes, dishing out silly threats (“If you don’t sing up I’m having mermaid and chips for tea”), or cheekily subverting the form (at one point he shuts up a seagull determined to warn the singing mermaid about his dodginess by yanking the bird puppet off the performer’s hand and throwing it across the stage). In a sea of catchy tunes written by Barb Jungr, he also delivers the real showstopper, ‘Money is my raison d’être.’
With strings of fairy lights and festive bunting overhead, Designer Laura McEwan transforms Little Angel’s auditorium into an atmospheric Big Top. The script, songs and performances display a real understanding of the audience, a favourite example being a character struggling to count money who is, unbidden, quickly corrected by the young people watching. The Singing Mermaid is expertly crafted but feels effortless.
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