The Little Mermaid at the John McIntosh Arts Centre

There is sometimes a balance of sorts between maintaining the world created on stage and keeping a fast tempo going. For shows that choose to emphasise the former, the scene changes can sometimes be a bit lengthy, slowing the pace of the evening overall. Often this ultimately makes little difference, if the show is fairly subtle and the extra time, so to speak, can purposefully be used by the audience to reflect. But this is a big and bold Disney musical – not produced by Disney, mind you, but by an amateur dramatics society.

The Little Mermaid - Photo by Andras Viszmeg.
The Little Mermaid – Photo by Andras Viszmeg.

The best of amdram is better than the sort of professional shows that need work, and while the audience saw stagehands march on and off stage pushing and pulling large set pieces around on occasion, this somehow added to the entertainment on offer, as did the overall inventiveness of the production. The show indeed took the audience Under The Sea, to use the title of one of the musical’s most well-known numbers, through a combination of moving images of sea life and a copious amount of blue fabric. It was all rather delightful, truth be told – there were moments when the next scene was already set up and the cast ready to go, only to find the applause hadn’t quite died down yet.

There are eight puppeteers – well, ten if you count Flounder (Rosie O’Rourke) and Sebastian (Josephine Bannerman), and an impressively large cast of thirty-eight, flanked by a fourteen-strong band directed by Mark Smith. At a time when there’s an increase in shows with smaller casts, ostensibly in response to audience demand but really to save money in a cost of living crisis, it’s refreshing that Centre Stage London has pulled out all the stops in a show that felt nostalgic in more ways than one.

The sound (Henry Whittaker) was well-balanced between cast and band, and at the performance I attended there were only, fleetingly, the very slightest of mic issues. Nick Dore’s Prince Eric has a strong belt, while Bex Evans’ Ariel was crystal clear with every lyric. Stephen Mitchell stole the show as Chef Louis: in one of those ‘no such thing as a small part’ moments, his one solo musical number was rightly met with sustained applause. If Ursula (Cleo Simone), the sea witch, didn’t quite come across as the villainess that the narrative – and Santiago Liendo and Annie Houseago’s gloriously over-the-top costume design – suggest, the eventual triumph of good over evil was still more than satisfying. Even if, this being a Disney musical, it’s a conclusion that almost anyone would have deduced long before the curtain call.

The stagecraft, without giving too much away, was nothing short of marvellous, and the show’s simple but nonetheless vital takeaway message, to not give up on dreams and ambitions, arguably needs to be heard now more than ever. Okay, it’s a tale as old as time, to quote a different Disney musical. But it’s fun without being frivolous, cheery without being childish, with an all-age appeal. This production connects with younger members of the audience as much as it does the ones who pay for the tickets. An energised and passionate performance.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

In a magical kingdom beneath the sea, the beautiful young mermaid Ariel longs to leave her ocean home to live in the world above.

PRODUCTION TEAM
DIRECTOR: James-Lee Campbell
ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: Alexis Rose
MUSICAL DIRECTOR: Mark Smith
CHOREOGRAPHER & SKATE COACH: Paul Brookland Williams
ASSISTANT CHOREOGRAPHER: Tim Garrard
PRODUCER: Giles Burden
LOCATION: John McIntosh Arts Centre, Seagrave Road, Fulham, SW6 1AW

TICKETS available at www.ticketsource.co.uk/centrestage

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