Review: The Little Mermaid
Somehow it’s nearly Christmas again, and that means Circa Theatre’s annual pantomime is back! I’ve been going every year since I moved to Wellington, and I’ve gotta say, it’s still a fantastic and very ridiculous experience.
This year it’s a wet and wild ride through The Little Mermaid, written once again by Circa stalwarts Simon Leary and Gavin Rutherford.
It’s 3021 and most of Pōneke is underwater. Taken over by merpeople – created when the Wellington sewerage pipes finally burst for good and flooded Upper Hutt (or so we’re told), the remaining human population lives on top of the hills of Wellington – ‘Wellington Heights’. An endless – though seemingly quite chill – forever war has been going on between the merpeople and the people of Wellington Heights, and that is where we set our scene.
Coral (Natasha McAllister), a mermaid, is fascinated by the human world, and saves the life of Lyall Bay (Jake McKay) a human man when his boat capsizes in the harbour. So interested she is by the land people, she is tricked into having her tail and voice taken away by her evil aunt Bermuda (Kathleen Burns), so she can go onto land to find Lyall. Meanwhile, King Lando (Simon Leary) and the Dame, Shelly (Gavin Rutherford) have reunited after 20 years apart, and are dancing around each other, clearly madly in love. Along for the ride is Crabby (Trae Te Wiki), Coral’s crab assistant, and Shaggy (Jthan Morgan), King Lando’s NZSL interpreter (who is a shag – like, the bird). Jthan also plays Neptuna, Bermuda’s sister, to a delightfully chaotic effect.
Look, it’s a fabulous show, as it always is. In particular this year I really appreciated the choreography, and the score, which is quite the earworm and has some endearing leitmotifs sprinkled within. As pantos do, there’s a ton of songs we know well in it – I particularly enjoyed Kathleen’s rendition of Pokerface, and the show concluder fun.’s Some Nights.
All the performers are very strong and a pleasure to watch. Both of Jthan’s performances were truly excellent, and I really liked the sheer committeemen Trae gave to Crabby, who was part crab, part puppy, and all parts very charming.
A particularly clever aspect of this year’s show was that a lot of it was conducted in New Zealand Sign Language, and the ‘audience interaction’ piece, where children would usually go up onto stage but couldn’t due to COVID-19 restrictions, involved us all learning parts of a song in NZSL. As Coral loses her voice for a large portion of the piece, I found the use of NZSL particularly clever, and a great inclusive way to go about performing without dialogue. Having performed portions of a show in NZSL before, I know how challenging it can be to sign and speak at the same time, especially if you’re new to it, and all performers took to signing with great joy and aplomb.
There’s something for everyone in this year’s panto, with the usual innuendo and sauciness from the Dame to some very prescient notes about Wellington life in other moments. There was also a joke about APRA which I am certain I’m the only one in the audience who laughed at it – so I just wanted to mention that and say, hey, I feel you, and I understand.
Though the audience was slightly smaller this year due to Level 2 distancing requirements, the room was full of joy and delight throughout, and I left the show yearning for the sea. In times of such uncertainty it is so good to see a piece of theatre that’s full of energy and excitement, where evil is vanquished and everyone finds love by the final notes.
As I say every year, Circa panto greatest hits album when?
Tickets are very limited for this show and it is mostly already sold out, but if there’s any left, dive in and pick them up here.