The Little Mermaid at Bristol Old Vic

Katie Moore as Little Mermaid (photo Simon Annand)MODERN theatres all over the country are looking for that elusive formula that allows them to put on a non-pantomime Christmas show for the family without compromising on the essential elements that have made panto so successful for so many years.

And in these cash-strapped times, that means not only a fresh approach to music as well as the magic, audience participation, excitement and romance of the traditional show, but a relatively small cast. Gone are the days of the 30-strong chorus of professional singing dancers and a vast company of tried and tested stars in the leading roles.

How ironic, then, that this year’s offering at Bristol Old Vic has found the perfect solution in a show that should have national critics dashing down the M4 and parents changing plans to make sure their children don’t miss the show … and just in the week when the “brains” of Local World have decided to close down Venue, and transfer their arts coverage to determined and passionate unpaid experts, or more likely the “citizen journalist.”

Local World, in case you didn’t know, is the company that took over a vast number of local papers across the UK a years ago, (including almost all of those in the South West) and has spent the last 12 months turning them into advertorial wreckage.

Wreckage is what Hans Christian Andersen’s story is all about, adapted here for the stage by Joel Horwood, and directed by Simon Godwin.

Down at the bottom of the sea there has been something of a takeover, and the favouritising, ruthless and vain Sea Witch is progressively taking control of the operation. But like all dominatrices she’s not content with her little undersea kingdom, and wants to take over on land, too. Be warned, the indecisive with ambitious minions!

She orders her subjects, specially the mermaids, to sing the waves into storms, wrecking ships, killing men, and pounding the cliffs until they fall and filling the estuaries until they flood.

The rulers of the land above are in a quandry. Unless their awfully decent young prince marries before midnight on his 18th birthday, the earth will crumble into the sea … or so goes the prophecy.

Prince Will has fallen in love all on his own, without the help of his mother, with a singing girl who rescued him from a shipwreck, and, like all fairytale princes, he’s got to find her.

In the mean time the girl, who is, of course, the little mermaid, has been tricked by the evil Sea Witch, who has promised to exchange her tail for legs and oh-so-painful feet so that she can go to find her love. But she has also stolen the girl’s beautiful singing voice.

So when the prince’s mother insists on a party to find the new bride, the hideous Witch turns up and sings, and the prince recognises the song, never for a moment thinking that the beautiful but mute girl who can’t put her feet to the ground is in fact HIS mermaid rescuer.

This being a fairy tale, of course it all comes out right in the end. The Sea Witch is neatly murdered (they don’t let you get away with that in real rural life) and the happy couple lives for ever in bliss.

It’s all accomplished within two hours on a brilliantly inventive set with nine versatile performers who weave a powerful magic throughout the historic auditorium.

It would be impossible to pull off without an actress in the title role who can both sing and dance (on pointe) and Katie Moore, who trained up the road at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, is the perfect mermaid.

Beverly Rudd is relishing her nastiness as the Witch and Tristan Sturrock returns to the Old Vic stage as the Merman and an excruciatingly realistic Master of Ceremonies.

Every member of the company is required to dance, sing, play a variety of instruments and deliver beatboxer Shlomo and DJ Walde’s wonderfully rhythmic and surprisingly tuneful score.

I can’t recommend this show enough, for those who love pantomime, want to avoid pantomime, or just want a night out with (or without) the children this Christmas. It’s perfect, and its on until 18th January.



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