The Last Mermaid

The Last Mermaid, Festival of Voice – Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, 09/06/16

Charlotte Church has co-created a reworking of Hans Christian Andersons classic mermaid story that, along with dancers, visual effects and music created by Church and Sion Trefor, is a 2016 re-imagining of the classic tale. And along with words, and the story co-written with Church and Jonathan Powell, this already feels like a collaborative effort and no way a vanity project by Church. As the lights go down and the play starts, somehow I get the feeling that this is going to be one of the highlights of Cardiff’s 2016 Festival of Voice.

Dancers invade the stage as the story of the last mermaid is spelled out. Suddenly Church appears from nowhere and is trapped by the last clamshell. Emerging she is full of childlike wonder at the sea in front of her. Moving on she is helped by her friend, the last whale, to experience life as a human being in land and no longer underwater.

This last transformation has devastating consequences for the mermaid and she is immediately engulfed, not only by ocean detritus (i.e. plastic, a fisherman) but poisoned by the business of modern life as exposed by the modern techno costumes worn by the supporting cast. The neon lit cast parade around the stage pretending to check phone signals and drink from water bottles strapped to their arms.

The beauty of this performance is that there is no time that the story and/or metaphor is preachy. The supporting cast, as well as Church’s display of amazing vocals, both as operatic and as poppy chanteuse, is tight and formidable in their rehearsal. Hopefully Charlotte Church fans will have gone away satisfied. Not only has she still got “the voice of an angel”, she has the socio-political conscience that can help the transition from artist to political activist, as well as maintaining the artistic adventure.

This is modernist appropriation at its best, and I applaud Charlotte Church for what she has helped to create. This is dark, and embraces not only a commentary on waste within the sea, but also touches on sustainability among the modern fishing techniques used today. Finally, the minimalist visual effects that the cast use to tell their story are so innovative, and it is this that adds to the drama and visual impact of the story to the viewer. Very clever.

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