The Darker Side of The Little Mermaid

Ian SInclair‘The Little Mermaid’ is currently playing at The Blue Room Theatre.

Director Ian Sinclair spoke to OUTinPerth about the new production, rediscovering the original story and the process of creating devised theatre.

What attracted you to the story of the Little Mermaid?

Originally I came across the original text again when I was looking on the internet.  I read the story again. I’m pretty sure the Disney version messed me up for my adult life, but when I read the original story I was interested in the darkness contained within it.

The part about her losing her voice, her turning into sea foam at the end, the pain in her feet and all that sort of imagery, I thought was quite theatrical.

When I did more research I found out that Hans Christian Andersen wrote the original story as a love letter to a ballet dancer that he was infatuated with. It was an unrequited love because the ballet dancer had no interest in him whatsoever.

It grew from there, when we start to devise the work I always start in rehearsals with two words, and the words for this were ‘unrequited love’ and ‘surface’. The theme of unrequited love is one that really hit me; everyone knows that feeling of trying to obtain someone who is unobtainable and that pain. That’s happened to me, nearly everyday I fall in love with someone who is unobtainable.

So that was the attraction for me, not so much the story itself but the theme of unrequited love and the imagery associated with the story and the idea of transforming.

I was watching a production of ‘Swan Lake’ recently, where the heroine is trapped in the body of a swan, I found myself thinking of how common that theme of physical transformation is in these older stories.

Transmogrification it’s really interesting, We’ve been working with Jacinta Larcombe, who is originally a contemporary dancer, and she can physically change her body and explore what it is to grow scales and move differently.

In our version it’s about a girl who’s in love with the ocean, and she slowly begins to turn into a mermaid. So it’s a bit of a reversal of the story, it about a girl who sees the ocean as a place of freedom.

There seems to be a lot of ocean inspired plays at the moment, from ‘Great White’ to ‘Alvin Sputnik’?

Yes, especially at The Blue Room it seems, but I guess its part of living of Perth. It’s a big theme. It part of where we live, our surrounding environment. There does seem to be a big theme of escape linked to the ocean.

Do you enjoy the process of creating a devised work?

It’s kind of the only way for me. I find it more satisfying, especially in contemporary theatre. There is an extra edge when you all add something personal to the story, working with the actors, the set designer and the sound designer.

It gives a different quality when everyone is working in the space together. A lot of the text comes from personal stories from the actors and a scene is something from a story the set designer told us, and it’s all very personal – that’s what I love about creating a devised work.

A lot of the process is just play, and as someone who grew up as an only child, running around the back yard on my own, it’s a little like going back to that time. We do hours and hours of improvisation.

How do you make sure you stay true the themes of the original text and not venture too far from it?

Well we wouldn’t have done ourselves any favours if we’d just gone in and put a mermaid and a sea witch on stage. You have to look at it from the perspective of what is a ‘sea witch’ in 2013.

One thing that was really interesting in comparing the original text to the Disney version is the lack of a villain. There is the sea witch, but no one is a particular villain and I found that really fascinating. The less that people are villains the more interesting that world becomes.

The Little Mermaid is at The Blue Room in Northbridge until September 7th.

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04-04-2011   On the Right Track

Graeme Watson



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