Theatre reviews: Mermaid and To Kill a Mockingbird

Mermaid at the West Yorkshire Playhouse
Mermaid at the West Yorkshire Playhouse
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Mermaid at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, reviewed by Yvette Huddleston ****

Award-winning theatre company Shared Experience specialise in creating exciting pieces that combine physical and text-based theatre. The company have presented exhilarating and robust adaptations of literary classics such as Jane Eyre, Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary and The Mill on the Floss and here they present their version of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid.

Adapted by Polly Teale, who also directs the prodction, this is a totally enthralling piece of theatre, full of sensual movement and profound, uncomfortable truths about the modern world and the the pressures it places upon young women in particular.

The narrative springs from lonely teenager Blue, who has been ostracised by her friends, as she retells the mermaid’s story as a way of connecting with her true inner self.

The little Mermaid, the youngest of four sisters, lives in a place where there is no pain, death or separation, but she longs to know about the world above the water and on her sixteenth birthday rises to the surface where she sees and falls in love with a young prince. “She saw in his gaze... longing and fear and tenderness... and the depth of his loneliness.”

As soon as she experiences desire, she learns about loss and the human obsession with beauty and their own mortality. The storyline confronts this loss of innocence, subtly comparing it with the complex, disturbing emotions of adolescence. And it doesn’t shy away from the violence of the ripping out of the little mermaid’s tongue, nor the sad significance of her sacrificing her voice in exchange for a pair of legs.

The company of eight actors – six women and two men –play multiple parts with great energy and aplomb and the scene in which they recreate a sea storm is just breathtaking.

• To March 28.

To Kill a Mockingbird at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, reviewed by Julie Marshall ****

Whether you’ve read the novel, seen the film, or are a newcomer to Harper Lee’s work, this marvellous production of To Kill a Mockingbird will leave you entranced. The book’s complex themes of love, loyalty and racial prejudice seen through the eyes of both children and adults are sensitively explored and portrayed exquisitely by the ensemble cast.

When they’re not inhabiting a particular character, each cast member reads out extracts from the book which keeps the narrative flowing smoothly.

Christopher Sergel’s adaptation is true to Lee’s novel and, unlike other stage adaptations, director Timothy Sheader has cast children in the roles of the three main characters Scout, Jem and Dill rather than young adults. This decision could so easily have been the wrong one but the three youngsters taking on the parts on the night we visited were, without exception, superb.

Jemina Bennett making her professional theatre debut is a perfect Scout, her real-life brother Harry portrays Jem in a sensitive and sympathetic way while Leo Heller as the eccentric Dill, with his mop of unruly hair is a delight to watch. Taking on the part of Atticus is a daunting one for any actor – the spectre of Gregory Peck’s Oscar-winning performance in the film looms large. However, Daniel Betts steps up to the mark and carries the part with so much nobility and integrity, that spectre is laid firmly to rest.

• To April 4.