reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 26 September
What is the worst thing which can happen to a dancer? Or to a singer? Surely it’s to lose the faculty which is the whole centre of her being, literally her raison d’être. Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale gives the voice and movement to his little mermaid, who willingly gives them up for a life on dry land and the human man with whom she is infatuated.
David Nixon’s new Northern Ballet creation takes the story, which is one with an unhappy ending rather than “and then they lived happily ever after”, and sets it somewhere sea-girt – his costumes suggest the Scottish Highland coast or even Greece as well as a slight Japanese influence. Lifts are either two-person to display the Fortuny pleats of the mermaids’ tails or one-person for the dry-land, human dress sequences.
Cliff-like structures are moved by the cast to take us from the ocean depths to dry land as the story switches from one location to another. Sally Beamish’s score is one with Celtic resonances, notably for Adair and his sailor friends, and uses Stephanie Irvine’s vocalise at crucial moments.
The cast I saw is dominated by Abigail Prudames’ heart-rending Marilla, the little mermaid herself. She is a fine actress as well as a graceful lyrical dancer and her beach scene as she realises that she is now dumb and that every movement of the legs and feet which have replaced her water-cleaving tail is one of excruciating agony is almost painful to watch.
Growing up is notoriously a painful business, and this is as much a fable about maturity and its obligations as well as its rights as it is about any species of fish out of its own water. Joseph Taylor as Adair suggests the young man who has dreams but perhaps not much imagination; there is a nice contrast between the inventive fluidity of his pas de deux with Marilla and the convention of the later one with Dreda Blow’s Dana.
Every fairytale needs both a villain and a faithful friend for the protagonist. Matthew Topliss’ Lyr is a mollusc-dark Lyr, lord of the sea and determined to keep its denizen in order. Kevin Poeung makes the prancing seahorse Dillion the most wholly likeable character of all, ending both acts centre stage but now doubly bereft.
Four and a half-star rating.
The Little Mermaid runs at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 30 September with matinées on 28 and 30 September. The national tour continues until 17 December.