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The Little Mermaid (St Albans, Alban Arena)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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The grand-daddy of pantomime production companies Qdos has come up with a brand-new show this year for the Alban Arena. Jon Conway has scripted The Little Mermaid from a basis of the Hans Christian Andersen story (though without the sad ending to that tale), mixed with a dash of Treasure Island and a whisper of C S Forester. And that’s before you add some spectacular 3D effects created by Amazing Interactives and a couple of characters familiar to television viewers.

As this venue is one of those civic multi-purpose ones, there isn’t a great deal of depth to the stage. No set or costume designer is credited in the programme but they have done very well with some glittering drop curtains and a new strategically placed pieces of set. The costumes are colourful with the mermaids gliding on roller heels under swishing fish-tails of floor-length gleaming scales to give a very good impression of part-human sea creatures. Olly Ashmore has provided a toe-tapping score, though technically the sound projection for this at times is over-whelming.

Sarah Jane Honeywell makes an enchanting heroine, wooed and won by Michael Crawshaw’s clear-voiced Horatio for all the attempts of Innis Robertson’s Nessie to capture her voice and thwart everyone else’s plans – this is one creature from the deep with whom you definitely shouldn’t tangle. Horatio is the pilot for Long John Silver’s pirate ship; Buster has great fun with this not-too-terrifying buccaneer. Also aboard is Jim Lad (Jordan Hooper-Shearme at the Press performance) while Phil Lawton rules under the waves as the mermaids’ brother Neptune, a sort of sea-green Elvis.

Attempting to help the lovers is Cecil the Seahorse. A cheery sort of hippocampus, he materialises on the way to Voodoo Island and on the endangered coral reef – there a strong anti-pollution environmental message underpinning the story. Spongebag Squarepants and the nodding bulldog from the Churchill insurance advertisements (sponsorship?) are also briefly involved. If the first act 3D effects are good, those for the second act are even better, including a roller-coaster ride, sharks, spiders, snakes and snapping lobsters. But perhaps the latter were just cross at having their claws used as microphones by the mermaids singing in close harmony, rather like a trio of watery Supremes.

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