Bristol 24/7 on The Tap Dancing Mermaid

Image by Paul Blakemore at The Wardrobe Theatre, Feb 2023

Bristol 24/7 Review The Tap Dancing Mermaid on it’s 10 year anniversary tour at The Wardrobe Theatre, Bristol, February 2023. 

As one-person, multiple-puppet shows go, I don’t think half-term family theatre can get much more captivating than this.

It’s wonderful to see Tessa Bide starring in the revival of her very first show with such a palpable enjoyment of the watery world which she, once again, inhabits.

The Tap Dancing Mermaid is a simple and evocative tale following protagonist, Marina Skippett, a strong and free-spirited orphaned girl with an enduring love of the ocean.

Under the watchful eye of the moon – who also narrates the story in Adam Fuller’s comfortably booming tones – she sneaks out at night from the house she is forced to share with her cruel aunty, and loses herself, listening to the sounds of the sea and tap dancing on the boardwalk until sunrise.

It’s a beautifully straightforward set-up that allows us to inhabit and enjoy the story, rather than simply racing through it.

And without wanting to spoil the plot, it is enhanced by gorgeously-made puppets from Jess Jones and Sarah Dicks, a warm and magical percussive score from Matt Huxley, Marta Gemma’s inventive and deceptively simple design, and some truly joyful tap dancing routines.

What Bide’s performance offers is characteristic of the warmth and inclusivity that proper family theatre should always aspire to; the real sense that she is delighted to welcome the youngest and the oldest audience members and to hold them in the same space.

Gentle humour, which peppers the show, and audience participation, are treated with a lightness of touch, and a smiling Bide gets everyone willingly involved in a tuneful ukelele singalong.

It’s a gloriously escapist 45 minutes, and a perfect introduction to theatre for little ones.