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Review of Mermaids at the King’s Head Theatre

Mermaids - Credit Andy McCredie
Mermaids – Credit Andy McCredie

It’s a very sweet story, in the end, and just about convinces in what is a textbook response to a number of challenges faced by Lia (Jo Eaton-Kent) and younger brother Danny (Ray James). Carly (Carrie Rock) has known Lia from school days and continues to lend her support. Now, there are no mermaids to speak of in Mermaids, though broadly speaking parallels can be made between a mermaid and Lia, a trans woman. Mermaids, for instance, have been, through the ages, blamed for all sorts of occurrences that cannot indisputably be their responsibility. Lia too finds herself being blamed for Danny’s personal problems, such as an apparently bad career choice. It is not referenced in the show, but there is even a charity called Mermaids UK, with, amongst other things, works to (in their words) “reduce isolation and loneliness for parents and young people dealing with gender issues”.

Neither sibling is painted as perfect, though I couldn’t quite follow why Carly took such a lecturing tone towards Lia – in one scene, struggling to cope with various problems that arise in the play, she takes to her bed. She’s not hurting herself, she’s not hurting anyone else, she’s just taking time out. Anyway, Her boyfriend Greg, an off-stage character, likens her to Blanche DuBois, an analogy that only really has limited validity – she may be away with the fairies every now and again but local ‘kids’ throwing stones at her house because they don’t like trans people hardly constitutes a dependence on the kindness of strangers.

Invitations to a school reunion don’t help matters for characters trying to leave the past behind and look to the future. Both Lia and Danny have their reasons, despite initial resistance, for eventually deciding to go (I know I wouldn’t go to mine: what would it achieve?). To add to the characters’ misfortunes – Danny, an Army man, went absent without leave and has been evading military justice for some time – a slight mishap with a prop and another with lines was dealt with wonderfully, very much in the style of ‘keep calm and carry on’.

There’s something admirable in Danny seeking the assistance he needs – and, as he gives Lia (and thus the audience) an update, there’s a reminder of how much help is available. Despite his limited income, he has secured the services of a solicitor and medical professionals, making a medical discharge from the armed forces for post-traumatic stress disorder a likelier outcome than a prison sentence for desertion.

Perhaps there is scope for adding additional scenes in the form of flashbacks to the school days which are so often referred to. As it is, the set is kept simple, and scene changes go well, with the lighting (Simisola Majekodunmi) creating the right effect throughout. But final outcomes for anyone are far from certain. Once the last dance at the reunion is over, then what? It’s always a good thing for a show to leave its audience wanting more. A steadily paced, heart-warming and charming production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

“I love The Little Mermaid. She’s told she can’t be a little girl and do what little girls do, but she does it anyway.” Lia knows who she is and what she wants. She always has done. However, a death, an unexpected visit and a school reunion start to complicate things. Told by a company of working-class artists, Mermaids is an honest, funny and touching story that tests the bonds of family and friendship in the life of a working-class trans woman.

The Company:
Jo Eaton-Kent – Lia
Carrie Rock – Carly
Ray James – Danny

Designer: Verity Johnson
Lighting Designer: Simisola Majekodunmi
Sound Designer: Rachael Murray
Stage Manager: Michaela Stewart
Running time: one hour | Suitable for ages: 14+
Monday 2nd July – Friday 6th July, at 6.30pm.


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