The Mermaid Princess is Italian company Teatro Kismet’s latest meditation on transformation, love and death. Based on the Hans Christian Andersen story of The Little Mermaid, the themes are probed and unravelled with a delicate mix of movement, dance and Commedia-esque physicality.
The resulting creation is heartbreakingly vivid to behold. The set, lighting and performers flow and combine together so well that the onstage picture is as consistently beautiful as anything this reviewer has ever seen.
Also deserving of praise is the overarching theme of the book, which does not shy away from the ultimately tragic conclusion of the source material. It is a relatively recent phenomenon to want to provide children’s entertainment containing only a bland sweetness. The word ‘Disneyfy’ is often misused, as it is sometimes forgotten that the older Disney films were filled with death, sadness and even horror. (Watch again the dream sequence from Dumbo, which is pure surrealist horror).
Pleasingly, The Mermaid Princess does not Disneyfy itself and treats its audience (advertised as 8+) as being able to cope with and understand the darkness of the ending, which I think that they very much are.
What stops The Mermaid Princess from being more successful is that the pop-culture references clash with the more traditional theatricality. Judging from the reaction of the two hundred-odd girls around me, the Britney Spears moment fell oddly flat, whilst the transformation of the mermaid into the women prompted goggle-eyed wonder.
I always take furtive whispering as being the best indicator of interest when children are asked to sit still and watch anything on stage or screen, and the emotional, whirling balletic sequences of The Mermaid Princess were the most productive of this.
- Josh Tomalin