The Blue Room is delivering a one-two punch this season with two fantastic shows running side-by-side, both featuring wonderfully complex female roles as their centerpieces; HEDDA opened last week to great acclaim, and this week The Little Mermaid gets her turn to shine. Houston Sinclair is the chosen moniker for the producing entity behind this show, but it's Ian Sinclair at the helm as director and Sophie Fodsick McGrath as producer. The two shows are very different in tone, but complement each other extremely well. The Little Mermaid is sweet, pleasantly awkward, and very tender. There is a little bit of magic to it too.
We're introduced to our little mermaid, Grace (played by contemporary dancer Jacinta Larcombe), as we walk in on her while she's dancing by herself to strange music, dimly lit by blue light. She twists and undulates, lost in her own world, until she's interrupted by her young mother, Nina (played by Georgia King), who chastises her for her dancing. What follows for the next hour or so is a delicate and disturbing battle of wills between mother and daughter that intensifies when a young man, James (played by Ben Gill), comes into the picture.
The team has devised this story based on the original Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, and has thankfully side-stepped the saccharine Disney animated version, which most people who don't live under the sea are familiar with. The sweetness to be found in this re-telling is all natural, and stems from a genuinely heartfelt treatment of young love in bloom. One of the most beautifully staged moments of the piece happens without any dialogue at all, but instead comes out of a conversation consisting solely of sound, touch and regard between Grace and James. It's a moment full of tenderness and innocence, and it envelops the audience in its palpable warmth.
The predominant theme of the work seems to be escape. Grace escapes her social awkwardness and contentious relationship with her mother by escaping into fantasy worlds where she transforms through movement and dance. She explores many facets of her inner self through different ways of moving, and that's predominantly how we see her character working through conflict. This mirrors the original tale in that the mute mermaid's only means of communication with her beloved prince is through her new-found ability to dance. Larcombe communicates her character's interior life with precision in this physical way; there is no doubt what's happening to her, even though she says very few words. She is innocent, but becomes infinitely wiser in each passing moment. And there's not a soul in the world who could say no to that smile of hers.
Nina, Grace's mother, escapes the disappointments of her adult life by fantasizing about the past and reliving the best night of her life. Georgia King is hilarious as this emotionally stunted woman, who seems to have become a mother before she was ready, and still hasn't grown into the role. King, the Parker Posey of the Perth indie theatre set, puts her all into this bi-polar character; she is hilarious, Mommie Dearest scary, slightly unhinged, pitiful, mean-spirited, yet still endearing and sympathetic. But more importantly, she's able to make all these crazy character traits coalesce into something believable. King always gives strong performances, but this one is exceptional because she really gets to showcase her range.
James is the pivot point around which the other two swing. We don't get a very in-depth look into his character in this story, but we don't need to. Ben Gill has an ease and charm in this role that tells us everything we need to know about James. He fits in perfectly to this triangle; he can reflect and share in Grace's innocence, but he's no innocent himself, and plays easily against Nina's aggressive flirtation.
To go along with these strong performances, we have strong design: transitional, pretty lighting by Chris Donnelly; sculptural scenography by Shaye Preston; layered, embedded sound and music by Laura Jane Lowther; smart costume design, especially for the mermaid, whose neon green fishnet stockings help her transform into two half-human/half-animal creatures, by Shinead Grecas.
In fact, this transformative properties of a mundane pair of stockings is a perfect example of this show's unique style. There are many elements of magical realism at work here, and Sinclair and his team have woven these elements through the story in a way that feels perfectly fluid and consistent with the source material. And to continue in the nautical vein, the work has both depth and buoyancy.
The Little Mermaid is a fantastic exploration of fantasy versus reality, and Sinclair and his team have created an imaginatively bittersweet treat.
Blue Room Theatre and Houston Sinclair present
The Little Mermaid
based on the story by Hans Christian Anderson
Director Ian Sinclair
Venue: Blue Room Theatre, Perth
Dates: 20 Aug – 7 Sep, 2013
Bookings: blueroom.org.au | 08 9227 7005