Penny Flood reviews a retelling of the Hans Christian Andersen classic
The Little Mermaid at the Riverside is a curious jumble of ideas; a story within a story within a story which doesn’t work at so many levels.
The basic premise isn’t bad - old Hans Christian Andersen is telling the story of The Little Mermaid to a strange young girl who arrives in his back garden. As he tells the story the narration gets taken over by his younger self and then is played out on the other side of the stage.
But there’s a twist, the story of The Little Mermaid is presented as a parallel to Andersen’s life. He was gay and in love with his benefactor’s son Edvard who didn’t reciprocate the love and married a woman.
The Little Mermaid sacrifices all for a Prince with whom she has fallen in love but he also marries somebody else. To make sure we all get the point, the roles of Edvard and the Prince are played by the same person, which would have worked better if, at the very least, he’d had a change of costume as he changed characters.
The Little Mermaid isn’t a very pleasant story. After falling in love with the Prince, who she rescued when he fell overboard in a storm, she wants to become human so she can find him again. But there’s a price, the Witch transforms her tail into a cracking pair of legs but walking on them is agony and she’s been struck dumb.
On top of that the Witch has put a curse on her, if the Price marries somebody else, the Little Mermaid will die.
The Little Mermaid’s story told in a series of short scenes but without Andersen’s narrative it doesn’t hang together and there’s a lot that needs to be explained. For example, why did the Witch put a curse on The Little Mermaid and why was she so horrible?
Interspersed with the story telling we get snatches of young Andersen’s life, put together from his diaries and other writings, which is actually quite intriguing. I would have like to have spent longer with the real life Andersen rather than the struggling mermaid.
The cast are a very hardworking bunch as, with the exceptions of The Little Mermaid and Young Andersen they all play multiple roles and many of them play different musical instruments. But in spite of the fact that the programme notes tell us that this has been in development for a year, it felt under rehearsed.
There’s the kernel of something good here but it calls for tighter writing and editing with sharper direction.
The Little Mermaid is onat Riverside Studios in Crisp Road, Hammersmith until January12.
TICKETS: £20 (£17 concs)
Box office 020 8237 1111 or book online.
December 20, 2013