by Sarah Groszewski.
The Northern Ballet’s The Little Mermaid had its world premiere at the Mayflower Theatre in 2017 and has returned for a brief stint after 5 years.
Based on Hans Christian Andersen’s 1837 fairytale (with not a Disney reference in sight!), The Little Mermaid tells the story of young mermaid Marilla, whose curiosity leads her to sacrifice her life under the sea for a life on land, to pursue true love.
Marilla, known for her exquisite voice, lives under the sea with her sisters Evelina and Erila, and her best friend Dillion the seahorse. Marilla’s older sisters swim closer to the surface and return with a locket containing a picture of a human prince, Adair, who Marilla becomes enamoured with. During a storm raged by Lyr, the Lord of the Sea, Marilla rescues Adair from his wrecked ship while singing her beautiful song to him. She begs Lyr for the opportunity to become a human and live on the land with the prince. Her wish is granted and she is given a potion that transforms her tail into legs, yet removes her remarkable voice.
Adair returns to the shore to search for the beautiful woman he saw during the storm but he mistakes Marilla for the woman of his dreams. He takes Marilla home to look after her, but she does not get the happy ever after that she dreamed of. In fact it becomes rather more a case of be careful what you wish for!
It can be easy to forget how dark Hans Christian Andersen tales can be, especially for those of us who have grown up on the Disney retellings, and this was no exception. The pain of Marilla’s new legs, the pain of her sacrifice and that of unrequited love were clear to see through pained movements and moody music, and contrasted with the joy of love between the Prince when he finally found his true love. The visual representation of the insurmountable differences between Marilla and the people on the land was emphasised through choreography and costume in a way that made the audience realise long before Marilla did that this was a love story that did not have a happy ever after.
Despite the rather dark storyline, the show is magical. I have very little experience of ballet so I had wondered how dancers could possibly convey the depths of the sea and the elegant movements of the mermaids, but creative choreography and ethereal costumes give us the feeling of being underwater with them. The set design was simple but effective, and combined with clever lighting techniques the contrast between the underwater world and the land was impressive.
This was a visually stunning and engaging piece of dance and was very accessible for those of us who are not ballet connoisseurs, although a few of the audience seemed surprised at the lack of Ariel and Sebastian! It is showing at the Mayflower Theatre Southampton until October 22nd 2022.
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