“the live musical elements worked wonderfully well, and contributed the right kind of magical, ethereal qualities the story cries out for”
Little Mermaid – The Circus Sensation is the newest piece co-opting elements of musical, dance and theatre, to give new energy to the tradition of circus storytelling. Currently showing at the Underbelly Festival Southbank, Metta Theatre’s family-oriented show will appeal to younger audiences with its passion and charm, though may be lacking in complexity for an older crowd.
The story is based on the traditional tale by Hans Christian Andersen. Incorporating most of the well-known landmarks, with a few minor variations, the story is a more streamlined version of the classic, with a far more modern (and happy) ending. The performers are uniformly up to the task and the energy required of the show, maintaining power and slickness in combining their elaborate routines of dance with a constant delivery of lines. The show is in no way ballet or straight circus.
The book and lyrics, by director Poppy Burton-Morgan, along with composer Matt Devereux’s original songs, interplay with the gracefulness of the dancers as we watch them weave their bodies from trapeze to Cyr wheel to impressive human pyramids. However, these songs often lacked the grace and mystery that the combination of choreography and intelligent lighting often set us up for. The melodies and lyrics seemed devoid of a certain magical quality – which perhaps could not be achieved in a venue quite as loud with running noise as the Underbelly’s tent, where the performers’ voices often struggled to be heard.
However, the live musical elements worked wonderfully well, and contributed the right kind of magical, ethereal qualities the story cries out for. Direction was well-organised and allowed the different set-pieces to shine through, although I believe the Underbelly’s stage is a little too small for such a quick and busy show, and this strain showed at times.
For me, a little more humour and sensitivity to treatment of the story would have helped, but this is coming not from a child or family group – which is the audience Little Mermaid seeks mainly to serve. It does this very well with its blend of sweetness and a twisting and turning circus atmosphere.
Metta Theatre’s Jungle Book offers a surprisingly unique take on an old classic. Reimagined as a cross cultural urban dreamscape, the production forgoes talking animals for circus skilled gangsters, graffiti artists and skateboarders. Director Poppy Burton-Morgan injects some new blood into an old tale through a hugely talented cast.
With recent remakes in the audience’s mind, this genuinely refreshing interpretation of The Jungle Book provides relief from our encroaching boredom with the story. Through a dynamic fusion of street dance, hip-hop, and enough feats of acrobatics to raise the blood pressure, the show excels with Kendra Horsburgh’s brilliant choreography. The emotional connection between the young girl Mowgli and her street wise “wolf pack” is beautifully illustrated through dynamic individual dance styles.
The spirited range of performances are without doubt, the stand outs of the production. While these little vignettes of dance scattered through the plot feel episodic at times, it’s hard not to enjoy the spectacle of Alfa Mark’s fearless aerial hooping as Mowlgi, and Nathalie Alison’s pole dancing as Kaa.
The show’s pacing however, presents something of an issue. Heavy on exposition, Act I entertainingly tours well known elements of the story, albeit with the confusing addition of Mowgli’s mother. From then, the narrative struggles to make much impact in Act II. Mowgli’s return to the grey “city suits” serves as a reminder of the urban jungle metaphor and not much else. The show is simply less interesting when focused on Mowgli’s self-discovery rather than the push and pull of the jungle’s vibrant animal inhabitants.
The pace reaches a peak with an imaginative strobe lighting police raid on the “tiger” Shere Khan. The cast once again proving that the show is reliant on their ability to move with a crackling energy with limited props across a sparse stage.
The latter half of the show alerts the audience of the wider social issues threaded through this production. The occasional rap reminds the audience of the colossal themes of cultural integration and acceptance that are deserving of more stage time. Crucially relevant nuances of class struggles appear as something of an afterthought, overshadowed by the dazzling acrobatics on display.
However, the good intentions behind pulling such a classic into the frame of 21st Century multi-cultural class divides, offers a hopeful message for its young audience, and a welcome fresh take for adults familiar with the tale.
The power in Metta Theatre’s Jungle Book resides firmly on the shoulders of its seven performers. Their exuberance and indisputable talent carries the show through its narrative stumbling, giving real emotional depths to this pulsing adaptation of Kipling’s classic tale.