Social defiance swims through The Mermaid, a play produced and performed by a cast of teenagers at the La Mama. The mermaid is turning 15, and she finds herself increasingly intrigued by the world up on-shore. Humans, she learns, despite dying young, have souls that go on for eternity. Mer-people, by contrast, live for 300 years, upon which their spirits become seaweed, that once cut down are lost forever.
Izzy Roberts-Orr’s text is well-researched, and, given its desultory nature, deftly managed. The piece is divided into sections, each introduced with narration (by the performers in turn) that makes references to, amongst a host of random facts, 1837 — the year Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid was released, –1989 — when Disney produced its feature animation, — and the much-violated sculpture of the mythological character in Copenhagen today.
Ingeniously, Cassandra Fumi’s production is staged in a dry, sunken pool, where the actors dance and caper and sing. In the small theatre, seating tightly encircles the glittering space (magically lit by Rachel Burke), with the effect of making the live audience on my digital screen look like more mer-citizens.
Through their reimagining of this epic fairy-tale, the theatre-makers show us how they embrace the story’s particular elements while questioning others. By including performers of different skin tones and gender-types and cultural backgrounds, the drama demonstrates that hybridity explored in the fable no doubt resonates with the current society. The unfettered twisting of its plot, however, emphasises in no uncertain way that “the damsel in distress” stereotype has long since evolved out of existence. Mentions of Taylor Swift, Zoom stock prices, climate change protests provide further definition to this century’s youth-community.
Sure, the recorded form of the act is most likely its diluted version; we do not get to experience the energy and verve of proximity. But, this is a thoughtful little piece showcasing the intricacy and identity and zeitgeist of the generation, delivered with a dazzlingly original touch.