Touring – reviewed at the Studio of the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
All the delight of the original picture book story of The Singing Mermaid who gets swept away in the circus is brought to the stage in this puppet adaptation from the Little Angel Theatre. And more.
All the sharpness of Julia Donaldson’s story is retained in Samantha Lane’s script for the show. Indeed all Donaldson’s words are here, as the mermaid persuaded to join the circus with the promise of marble baths and soft beds, by its evil ringmaster
Laura McEwan’s design also carries the charm of Lydia Monks’ original illustrations. She creates the circus, all crimped edges corners and strings of coloured lights, inside a framework that is like an open scallop shell. What this adds, and the book doesn’t have, are Barb Jungr’s melodies and her added, twisting lyrics.
Sung with suitable theatricality by the three very able puppeteers, this fleshes out the story without creating too many longueurs. One early hypnotically over-repetitious evocation of the sea, apart.
Lyndie Wright’s puppets are just right too. Samuel Dutton narrates much of it and is the evil ringmaster (and provides a bit of puppeteer-support), but every other other character – from singing sea shells and dancing lobsters, the tragic mermaid herself and the various acts in the Big Top, and the seagull who eventually comes to save her – is a puppet creation.
Switching clearly between puppeteer and chorus modes, Elaine Hartley and Steinunn McQueen bring the puppets to life in a way that is delicious to watch. It all seems to be nice enough – until you realise that you are actually holding your breath at McQueen’s working of the high-wire acrobat, in case she might fall. Hartley makes the mermaid a lithe, twisting being, sleek of movement and, yes, lovely of voice.
There’s more depth to this than you might expect from a simple picture book adaptation too.
Dutton gives a sense of the mermaid’s overambitious seeking after fame and fortune, trying for more than she really needs – egged on by the initially flattering ringmaster who then turns into a money-grabbing Fagin figure.
A thoroughly entertaining piece of theatre which is pitched just right for those aged about three or over who love – or still love – the original book. There are enough twinkling lights and bright characters to keep their younger siblings happy and even a few sly jokes slipped in for the adults.
Running time 55 minutes (no interval)
The Studio, 22 Potterrow, EH8 9BL. Phone booking: 0131 529 6000
Wednesday 6 – Sunday 10 February 2019.
Wed & Thurs: 10.30am & 1pm; Fri 10.30am & 2.30pm; Sat & Sun: 10.30am, 1pm & 3.30pm.
Details and tickets: Book here.