Many people think they know the story of The Little Mermaid, but this is likely based predominantly on the 1989 Disney cartoon. The original, from famed Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, is a very different, much bleaker tale.
In this, the third production from Blind Tiger Theatre Company, writers David Shopland and Callum Hughes have drawn parallels between Andersen's tragic, oceanic story and his own life. Just as the titular mermaid longs to live as a human above the sea, Andersen struggles to understand both his place in society and his fluid sense of sexuality - something he, too, had to endure mostly in silence. "My sentiments for you are those of a woman", he wrote to Edvard Collins, the son of a wealthy benefactor who took Andersen into his home. These sentiments were not returned.
Shopland, who also directs the piece, has cleverly and almost cinematically merged this dual narrative on-stage, with lines overlapping as our attention shifts from one plane to another. The evocative lighting design focuses our attention, reflecting both the underwater palace and city life in Copenhagen against a stark yet ethereal white backdrop. The script also quotes Andersen verbatim, for a lucid narrative that seamlessly marries old and new.
The action is accompanied by a simple folk score performed by the actor-musicians on-stage. The harp, guitar and string melodies add fantastical charm to the production, though with the performers arranged disparately around the sparse stage, tuning and timing are sometimes issues.
The parallel narrative brings with it contrasting styles - the real and the fantastical. The mermaid scenes feel a little cartoonish, occasionally erring on the side of pantomime with sometimes clunky staging. The scenes with Andersen, however, are wonderful, his homoerotic relationship with Edvard subtly underplayed. The cast is held together by a touching and sympathetic performance from Anthony Pinnick as an eccentric and likeable young Andersen.
Blind Tiger's production is a well-researched piece that stays true to the spirit of both Andersen's writing and his own life, full of charm and without a singing crab in sight.
Watch: The Little Mermaid is performed at Riverside Studios until 12th January 2014.