The Little Mermaid by Centre Stage

The Little Mermaid is a musical that has been on my radar to see for a long time and when I found out that Centre Stage were putting it on both my younger self and my current self were thrilled. The musical stays faithful to the film and follows Ariel, a mermaid who gives up her voice to the sea witch Ursula so that she can live amongst the humans and get a chance for Prince Eric to fall in love with her.

The first thing that should be mentioned is the sheer scale of this production, so huge that it is hard to know where to start. The Little Mermaid has requirements that in isolation can seem daunting but when combined with all of the other elements require a huge amount of dedication and talent to pull off. Director James-Lee Campbell ensured that the show was big in every way; Ursula and her tentacles span 20 foot across the stage, each tentacle choreographed and worked expertly by the team of puppeteers, Ariel’s ascent to the land and descent back to the sea is done by flying her, projected artwork covers the custom made set giving a sense that the underwater world is constantly in motion and allowing for numerous settings throughout the performance and what must be in excess of 70 costumes which included heelies, a flock of dancing seagulls and numerous mermaid tails and other sea creatures. The show really is a feast for the eyes, made even more impressive considering the restricted time (and budget) amateur companies have to rehearse the technical elements of the show.

Talking of scale there were 15+ named parts in the show alone and it was wonderful to see characters that I had grown up with come alive on stage. Cleo Simone as Ursula had the difficult task of being restricted to acting with her upper body only as she glided across the stage in her bespoke truck however she captured the imposing witch wonderfully and I particularly enjoyed her spoken vocal choices to add her own stamp on the part.

Bex Evans played Ariel and captured the innocence and naivety needed to play this role successfully. She really came into her own in Act 2 with her sense of wonderment of being on dry land shining through as well as her playful nature. Alongside her as Prince Eric was Nick Dore whose rich voice and playful nature won the audience over and had them rooting for the paid to succeed.

There are others I would be remiss not to mention and they include Rosie O’Rouke as Flounder who looked like she came out of the womb on heelies, Stephen Mitchell has Chef Louis who threatened to steal the show with his number Les Poissons, Ariel’s 6 mersisters all brimming with their own character and Josephine Bannerman as a neurotic Sebastian.

The show was filled with energy from start to finish and the familiar film numbers all lived up to expectation. The highlight for me was ‘Kiss the Girl’ where the stage was gradually filled full of singing puppets as Ariel and Eric rowed on above them all. Paul Brookland William’s choreography was a delight throughout and he ensured that whenever choreography was required he took into account the fish/animal/mythical creature that they were portraying and made this the focal point of the movement, thus ensuring that the audience were never transported out of the fairy tale. There were points some of the cast seemed more comfortable on their skates than others and at time that restricted some of the movement around the stage but on the whole I was impressed with the commitment of some of the cast who not only had to learn the routines but learn them on skates.

The 14 piece band land by Musical Director Mark Smith sounded glorious throughout and from they moment they struck up the overture it was clear that Disney sound was alive in Fulham. There were a few minor niggles with the microphones with a few late pics ups or missed vocal lines and the sound balance, I would have liked Ursula’s vocals cranked up a notch.

The Little Mermaid is an incredibly ambitious and accomplished performance that really shows what amateur theatre can accomplish when talent and tenacity combine.

The Little Mermaid by Centre Stage is on at The London Oratory School until 13th April 2024. You can find out more and book tickets here.

If you like this review you might also like my review of Hunchback of Notre Dame, Cats and Holiday Inn – all by Centre Stage.

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