"Singing while hanging upside down"
by Avril Silk for remotegoat on 26/04/18

Have you ever seen a Circus Musical in the theatre? No? Me neither – but after enjoying Metta Theatre’s ambitious ‘Little Mermaid’ at Exeter’s Northcott (at the matinee in the company of squillions of excited, enchanted children) I can highly recommend you do just that. As it says in the programme, ‘Imagine singing while hanging upside down. And then try playing a violin at the same time.’

Director Poppy Burton-Morgan (who also wrote the book, lyrics and additional melodies) has matched a touching rite-of-passage love story, with loss, sacrifice and redemption, to the perfect form for an underwater spectacular. Her large creative team works theatrical wonders. The evocative set and lighting by William Reynolds creates a magical atmosphere, with an excellent musical score by Matt Devereux, supervised by Candida Caldicot. Loren Elstein’s costume designs wittily conjure up the worlds above and below the waves.

I was not expecting such a spectacular display of circus choreography and gasped out loud several times. The amazing aerial work lends itself to the illusion of swimming and life underwater. Full praise to the cast, including the counter-weighters. It was a real pleasure to see them shinning up and down the ladder, creating the necessary balance and giving us a glimpse of the strenuous effort that underpins the glamour, smoke and mirrors.

Rosie Rowland’s Little Mermaid is full of lively curiosity and the courage that comes from first love. Matt Knight’s Prince looks as if he is going to fulfil the ‘All-men-let-you-down’ fears of eldest mermaid sister (Rosalind Ford) but he rises (or rather, dives) to the occasion in style. Roo Jenkyn-Jones’ Sea Witch is truly sinister, and his spinning hoop-work looks amazing. Tilly-Lee Kronick as the Bride, Aelfwyn Shipton as Curious and Josh Frazer as Carefree complete a truly talented troupe – not forgetting the ingenious Seahorse puppet wielded by Matt Knight.

The best children’s shows and books always have several layers and ‘Little Mermaid’ is no exception. Much thought has gone into the reality of growing up, and there were symbols and colours to reflect that. As the story, which also celebrates sisterhood, is neither Disney nor Hans Christian Andersen, I would have furnished Little with siblings male and female, rather than have men valiantly representing women, and I would have liked a colour relationship between the Prince’s costume above and beneath the sea. And maybe some sequinned gauzes for the wedding under the sea?

My companions and I were struck by the responses of the children in the audience. Some with profound special needs, some (behind us) with an early adolescent superficial sophistication – all surrendered to the sweet charms of Poppy Burton-Morgan and Metta Theatre’s delightful ‘Little Mermaid.’

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