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Little Mermaid review at York Theatre Royal – ‘some stunning moments’

Metta Theatre's Little Mermaid at York Theatre Royal. Photo: Robert Day Metta Theatre's Little Mermaid at York Theatre Royal. Photo: Robert Day

The gravity-defying feats of contemporary circus and the weightlessness of moving through water make a good match.

As performers dive through the air, it’s easy to see why Metta Theatre have hit upon A Little Mermaid as a story ripe for acrobatic reinvention. In their version, the familiar tale of love and yearning gains music, somersaults and a series of striking swimming caps.

The fusion of fairytale, circus and actor-musicians inevitably invites comparisons with Kneehigh. Like that company, Metta Theatre takes an irreverent approach to a well-known tale, but the show would benefit from more of Kneehigh’s knowing playfulness. Matt Devereaux’s songs, meanwhile, often stall the storytelling rather than driving it.

That said, Metta Theatre’s circus-infused approach produces some stunning individual moments – a glow-in-the-dark seascape, a twirling, airborne duet – and the odd gasp-inducing stunt. Bar the occasional vocal stumble, the company of seven is strong, with Rosalind Ford’s instrument-playing, operatic-singing acrobatics marking her out as a particularly multi-skilled performer.

There are some satisfying digs at traditional gender roles, including an enjoyable makeover-montage piss-take. That makes it all the more disappointing, though, when the Seawitch turns out to be an aquatic Miss Havisham, wallowing bitterly in spurned love. The opportunity to subvert Disneyfied fairytale tropes dissolves into yet another female stereotype.

Metta Theatre pride themselves on reimagining popular narratives, from a street-dance Jungle Book to a hip-hop take on The Wind in the Willows. Here, though, their reinvention could dare to be bolder.

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Irreverent fusion of acrobatic stunts and music in a new version of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale