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The Little Mermaid review at Little Angel London

Forget the Calypso chorus, the Caribbean crab and the jolly contours of the Disney ending. This revival of John Wright’s version of The Little Mermaid is arthouse for children, exquisitely executed puppet theatre which cuts out the Christian heart of Andersen’s dark fable but preserves its cruel and sensual elements.

Like Pinocchio, Andersen’s Little Mermaid longs for a soul. She gives her lovely voice to the Sea Witch in exchange for legs to follow the Prince she saved from a watery grave but can only watch silently as he falls in love with a human girl. The mermaid makes a particularly poignant marionette: her mask-blank features cannot move, but her jointed hands and fins (manipulated by skilful puppeteers) give desperate little thrills.

Christopher Leith faithfully choreographs the mermaid as the mute, still centre of the story. Other puppets whirl around her – her tittering, twirling sisters, the skipping, clacking King and Prince, the swirling Sea Witch and her frondy familiars. The eerie cross-lit sets are emotionally underscored by orchestral extracts from Janacek’s Sinfonietta. And the voices, which include Judi Dench and Michael Gambon, are richly suggestive, simply enthralling for children but an extra dimension for adults. The same is true of the whole production – a Little Mermaid which is piteous, spectacular, moving and strange.

Production Information

Little Angel, London, September 23-November 11

Author
Hans Christian Andersen, adapted by Benedict Ellis
Directors
Christopher Leith, John Wright (original)
Producer
The Little Angel Theatre
Cast includes
Claudie Blakeley, Dame Judi Dench, Michelle Duncan, Sir Michael Gambon, Rory Kinnear, Rosamund Pike, Claire Rushbrook and Peter Wight (voices), Roger Lade, Ronnie Le Drew, Lynn Robertson Bruce, Joe Wright, Lyndie Wright and Sarah Wright (puppeteers)
Running time
1hr 15mins
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