The Mermaid of Zennor

Rating ***

Reviewed by Roz Carter


It’s easy enough to overlook Wimbledon Theatre’s smaller studio space when it’s larger sister venue is throwing wild musical parties with jazz hands and chorus lines all over the shop. This is a shame as its intimacy and tucked away nature means it’s instantly the cooler venue and is the perfect space for more experimental work (the half price drinks as the bar also went down a treat!).

Based on the Cornish folk tale and the first depiction of a mermaid, Moon On A Stick’s production of The Mermaid of Zennor opens with Iris (played by Shelly Atton) and Thomas (played Paul Sheridan) finding a baby washed up on shore and adopting her. The child Imogen (played by Alice Sillett) grows up on her mother’s stories but one story in particular stays in her mind; The Mermaid of Zennor. The action then becomes interwoven with flashbacks of when a young man was lured to the sea by a mermaid with piercing eyes and a cold heart.

As the minxy mermaid in question Chloe Ward is luminescent and otherworldly, while Henry, the young man who is spirited away, is warmly played by Benedict Hastings. Both Hastings and Sheridan give fine performances as fishermen who have learned to fear and respect the sea and their cap-in-hand nature makes them likable as characters. But the story feels stilted and jerky as the two time frames slip into each other and while Paul Sheridan and Shelly Atton’s performances accurately portray the passing of time, Alice Sillett’s rather over-enthusiastic portrayal as their daughter Imogen means that it’s quite hard to pin down exactly how much time as passed. Similarly the play looses momentum towards the end and looses the audience’s attention, cutting the lack lustre epilogue would have been a perfect way to finish.

Moon On A Stick specialise in visual theatre and puppetry and once the puppets are brought into action the set comes alive. All the cast members operate different sections of the beautifully fragile puppets and their movements are fluid and delicate. Designed by Shelly Atton, the mermaid puppet is surprisingly terrifying at points, while the puppet forms of Imogen and Henry are operated with such delicacy it creates an eerily aquatic atmosphere. There are some strange staging choices for the Kraken puppet, which although clever, is accompanied by pounding modern music which doesn’t sit well with the rest of the sea-shanty filled play.

Although there are some slightly jarring moments, overall this play has some visually beautiful scenes and interesting artistic ideas; keep an eye out for this company in the future, their best is yet to come.