When most people think of the tale of The Little Mermaid, they tend to think of a magical happily ever after. However, few people seem to realise that the tale we grew to love in childhood has a much darker origin.
Northern Ballet’s reimagining of Hans Christian Anderson’s fairytale takes us back to a more heartbreaking story of sacrifice and unrequited love, while showing us the overwhelming beauty and unpredictability of the sea. The ballet definitely touches on the more sinister aspects of the original story but does not forget that at the heart of it all, it is still a timeless tale of love at first sight.
We follow Marilla (Abigail Prudames), a mermaid who has fallen in love with a Prince (Joseph Taylor). She seeks help from Lyr, the Lord of the Sea (Matthew Topliss), to ask if he will turn her into a human so that she can walk on land and find her Prince. The menacing Lyr informs her that her wish will come at a price: in order to turn into a human, she must give up her voice and be prepared for every step she takes on dry land to be agonisingly painful. Marilla agrees and leaves everything she has ever known, only to find out that the Prince has fallen in love with someone else. We follow Marilla in her attempt to win the Prince’s affection without the use of her voice, but through the points of her newly formed toes.
From the second the curtain rises, the audience members are already convinced they are under water. The set is designed to make us believe we are looking at an underwater realm, which is enhanced by the use of lighting. It is impressive how quickly the set changes, going from watery rocks to parts of a ship within seconds. The stage is soon filled with people in beautifully fluid costumes that easily convince us they are submerged in water. The costumes really make a statement when it comes to the mermaids who swim on stage with help from the chorus of sea creatures. With a combination of the mermaids’ perfectly designed fish tails and the grace of the dancers, it is hard to believe that the girls aren’t actually gliding through water. Another highlight was the destruction of the Prince’s ship. It was an extremely well-choreographed piece where we see a chorus of dancers, playing the sea waves, hurl the sailors to their watery graves.
Through out the ballet, there is not a flaw in any of the dancers’ performances and many an audience member was left questioning if it’s even physically possible to leap as high as these dancers do. With the majority of the piece being set underwater the dancers are faced with an even bigger challenge of seeming even more weightless than they already have to be. Lifts and turns are executed perfectly, as if gravity does not exist. This company take this very difficult task and makes it look easy; they are clearly very seasoned at what they do.
Prudames as Marilla is an absolute joy to watch. She portrays the young mermaid’s wide-eyed innocence beautifully. The sequences where Marilla is in agonising pain is very well-performed and is truly haunting. Prudames’ dancing never ceases to convince us that the mermaid is not from our world. Kevin Poeung, playing Dillion the seahorse, also deserves a special mention. The friendship between Dillion and Marilla is very clear and so lovely to watch. Poeung is a little ball of energy: his characterisation of the seahorse is very playful and some how he still manages to dance with complete precision.
The feeling of the ocean is enhanced by the music of Sally Beamish. There is a certain Celtic aspect to the piece which fits in perfectly with the mysterious ocean theme. Instruments such as the harp in particular help to bring the story to life. A particularly nice touch was the vocals provided by Stephanie Irvine, which gave our little mermaid a beautiful folky touch. A beautiful reimagining told by a very talented company of dancers and musicians. For those who love the original and those who are yet to discover it, the classic story never fails to touch hearts, and this audience certainly was entranced. As heartbreaking as it is to watch at times, it still makes for a beautiful story and an ingenious ballet, even if the prince doesn’t love you back.
Guest reviewer: Ashleigh More