It appears that director Carol Spring, Artistic Director Elizabeth Dapo, and the Half Mad Theatre Company have garnered some very positive attention locally, so it beats me why this show left at least this audience member baffled and disheartened.
Death and the Mermaid had no discernible beginning, middle, or end that might have tied things together satisfactorily. The lack of both clarity of their story-telling and the somewhat sloppy execution of the choreography made it hard to follow what they were trying to say with this adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s lovely folktale.
At the beginning, three performers kneel, repeat a movement sequence scooping up water then what I interpreted as sculpting sandcastles in the air. But one of their members is clearly out of sync with the others and keeps eyeing the others for cues. The repetition exposes their unequal abilities and confidence as a “corps de ballet.”
Another cast member gets rolled in a big fabric of netting in the classic Chinese-inspired use of a “river of fabric” to represent waves. Are we meant to understand that the character drowns? Then the same character is on shore and meets a man who teaches her to walk. Ah, then this is the Little Mermaid transformed. But later we see her ‘swimming” with her grandmother, both of them mermaids, and she is longing to be on shore. Grandmother Mermaid assures her that when she is fifteen, she will be able to spend one day ashore. Hasn’t she already been? The sequence of events continues to befuddle me and obfuscate the company’s intentions. The abrupt ending left everyone in the audience not knowing whether the play was over.
On the first night’s performance I believe there were meant to be projections. The bloody business of technical difficulties is all too well known by this audience member, and I hope, for the ensemble’s sake, that these are resolved in the following performances.
Death and the Mermaid
by Francesca Chilcote, Elizabeth Dapo, Madison Hartke-Weber, Adrian Iglesias, Aniko Olah, Taylor Robinson and Carol Spring
Directed by Carol Spring
Choreography by Francesca Chilcote
Details and tickets
There are three beautifully soft-sculpted puppets – The Little and Grandmother mermaids and a fantastic Sea Witch, all designed by Artistic Director Elizabeth Dapo. Sea Witch is particularly well-realized and shared in its execution by Aniko Olah and Adrian Iglesias. It stomps its many feet, snakes its head, and jumps up to hang upside down from the ceiling. I wish the role could be developed more fully to understand how and why Sea Witch aids the Little Mermaid to get ashore (in a pact secret to Grandmother?) then later demands of the young creature to make the most difficult choice of killing her beloved prince or herself. Central to the plot, the character could have boosted the dramatic tension that the show so badly needed.
There is one standout performance. As the little mermaid, Taylor Robinson, a beautiful young actress, projects both fragility and great dignity. Robinson moves well and throws herself with great focus and emotional integrity into her role. There were two moments, both conveyed mostly in silence that were extremely powerful. One was when the little mermaid is lifted up and has to learn at first painfully and awkwardly with her fishy-floppy lower body and then with the joy of discovery the miracle of walking. A second compelling scene had the little mermaid confront her prince and his new princess. Robinson changes from bafflement to hurt, to unrestrained anger and possessiveness. She blocks the Prince, throws herself at him, and ends by jumping into his arms and clinging to him like a baby monkey.
I very much liked the inclusion of live flute by Penny Russell and the use of percussion to create the sound effects.
It’s a pity there is so little there there. The chief problem is the script or the lack thereof. As someone who is also committed to developing works through ensemble improvisation, I would recommend nonetheless a playwright or “shaper” of dialogue for this work. The cast showed their inexperience by voicing subtext rather than engaging in dramatic dialogue and sprinkling all too liberally inanities like “wow” and “oh.”
Oh, wow. I’m sorry.