The Little Mermaid – Albany Theatre, Coventry

Director & Choreographer: Christopher Moore

Reviewer: Nicole Craft

It’s difficult to think of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid as anything other than the Disney retelling and this may have had something to do with the number of children in this evening’s audience. Far from all-too-catchy songs and talking crabs, however, is Ballet Theatre UK’s dramatic retelling of the classic tale which makes its premiere at the Albany Theatre tonight.

The traditional suspense of the score starting well before the curtain rises, although powerful in nature, fails to impact without an orchestra present and this is a theme that continues through both acts; the transition between pieces of cut music sounding a little rough around the edges, reminding us that it is a recording and almost seeming to catch dancers by surprise at times.

The company makes the best of this, however, as they help to dramatise the tale of a seaman lured by the soft tones of a signing sea creature through dance and expression. There are some minor timing issues on occasion and a lack of confidence in some lifts which distract from the otherwise impressive, pirouettes and pliés, but their technique, both off and en-pointe, is just enough to forgive these and they combine storytelling and movement well to provide an eager audience with a pleasing experience.

Showing strength throughout are the three lead dancers who, despite some odd choreographic choices that slow the first act down in places, are poised almost to perfection. There’s nothing particularly show-stopping but they each play to their strengths and work together well. Oliver Cooper portrays the lovestruck, torn Prince, enchanted by the mermaid yet drawn to his soon-to-be bride, with charismatic confidence; his movements graceful yet strong – although there is a back-of-the-mind feeling of wanting to see more from him. Erin McNeill charms as the Mermaid, her movements constantly changing in reflection of her character’s current mindset. As with the others, she is let down by choreography at times, however, and some of her scenes – particularly in Act I – feel somewhat wasted as a result; Erin Flaherty, as the blushing bride, dances with a beautiful air of confidence and her en-pointe technique is a pleasure to witness.

A simple set design makes fabulous use of a small space with dance interwoven with prop-movement to navigate – and wreck – a ship around the stage; sheets of blue fabric effective at becoming the waves that eventually envelop their prey.

Lively costumes, a clearly talented company, expressive movement and great storytelling; most of the checklist elements of a good classic ballet are there, just without anything spectacular; for the most part, the scenes bumble along nicely and it makes for a pleasant watch. It’s never going to be an absolute showstopper but is still well worth the ticket price.

Reviewed on 19 April 2018 and on tour | Image: Chaz Barnes

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