Mabel White as Ariel – photo © Charley Nicol
With more sugar than a full-fat Coke this Disney musical version of ‘The Little Mermaid’ by the multi talented Echo Youth Theatre gave us a very sweet presentation of the classic tale adapted from an original (and frankly rather grim) story by Hans Christian Andersen.
The large and enthusiastic cast did not feel themselves constrained by the tight confines of the Maddermarket stage, making good use of its special features, although I think the stage crew were struggling to get some of the bigger props on and off stage. They sang and danced with style throughout this convoluted story of a love affair between a mermaid and a land based prince in a manner that could melt the stoniest of hearts – even mine.
Mermaid Ariel is the youngest daughter of King Triton, ruler of the ocean. She is played with great skill and ability by Mabel White who true to the character has a memorable singing voice and gives a confident start to the show with the very first song ‘The World Above’. Yearning to try life above the waves her singing catches the ear of Prince Eric (George Bartlett-Archery) who she rescues from a raging sea storm. In her endeavours she is assisted by Flounder (Persy Hart), a devoted fishy follower, and Scuttle (Nina Murdoch), the mischievous seagull. But the show stealer is her loyal friend Sebastian the crab, performed in hilarious style by Korben White who is clearly going to be a challenge on stage to the sassiest of drag queens in times ahead, at least when he has got his GCSE exams out of the way.
King Triton is given a strong and carefully nuanced performance by George Applegate in his first outing with Echo, but he has to contend with his rival for undersea power Ursula the Sea Witch, played with cackling glee by Libby Lumb. She is supported by the slithering green duo Flotsam (Amélie Mobbs) and Jetsam (Maisie Double-Cook) who move around the stage mesmerisingly carrying out Ursula’s dirty work. A special mention for the character Grimsby, Eric’s companion and mentor. The actor scheduled had to drop out just before the show so Jack Rudd from the stage crew stepped in and performed the role brilliantly. Another real crowd pleaser was Emerson Kelly-Clarke as the zany French chef, whose cod french (as he cooked fish) was definitely played for maximum laughs.
The set props help to make this show magic, and the costumes are really good. Jo Myers, Kymm Loveday and Kirk Wills have drafted a small army of capable volunteers to create a great range of stage outfits that fit the fishy theme perfectly. Keep your eyes out for the jellyfish if you are in an aisle seat!
The cast of this show may be young, between 9 and 17 years old, but they perform well together and create a thoroughly enjoyable version of a very popular show. Each of the principal roles gives the performer space to create their own distinctive stage characters. Getting stage roles is an incredibly competitive business these days, even before the painful period of repeated lockdowns, but I think we will be seeing a few of these young stars in many great performances in years to come.
With just four shows more to go make sure you catch this happy show before it closes on Saturday evening. In keeping with the spirit of opportunity of Echo Youth Theatre understudies will each be given a chance to star, so maybe see it a couple of times. A mystical magic musical show that makes the best of the atmospheric Maddermarket Theatre space.
In their five years of existence the Echo Youth Theatre team have built a strong reputation for staging enjoyable productions that really draw out the talent of their young performers who clearly enjoy the shows. They are now based in one of Norwich’s many historic church spaces at St Edmund in Fishergate and run many workshops and training courses in a wide range of performing skills.
Find out more and book your tickets here: https://www.echoyouththeatre.co.uk/the-little-mermaid/#team
If you would like to read the original fable, find it here: http://hca.gilead.org.il/li_merma.html
© Julian Swainson, Norwich Eye, 6th March 2022