There is so much theatre in London. Where do you start deciding what to go and see? I can barely get around all the West End and National Theatre / Royal Court / Almeida etc., shows that I want to visit. Sometimes I purely forget that they are happening. I'd have to be a professional audience member, working seven nights and at least four days a week if I wanted to experience everything. But it doesn't stop there! There's shows in the provinces I want to visit; then there's the million and one fringe venues that are constantly popping up in any city that has a slightly artistic pulse! WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO?!
How am I supposed to chose between the risk of missing Bradley Cooper or John Goodman for the sake of seeing Belinda Lang in Hull in Oklahoma! or a rare Ayckbourn play in Chichester? Or the other rare Ayckbourn play at the Chocolate Factory? Or an immersive, critically acclaimed Trainspotting at the King's Head? Or an improv night in an upstairs room at a pub next to a hospital and the Shard that used to be easy to get home from until London Bridge became a nightmare and I moved anyway so I don't understand which bus to get anymore and I've moved again since then so maybe I should just forget that one full stop! Do you get my dilemma?
It turns out that one of the easiest ways of solving this is by working in theatre.
- That often means you can't even go and see shows.
- You become friends with other theatre professionals which means the shows you can go and see are generally the ones that they are working on.
And so it was point two that led me to the New Wimbledon Theatre Studio to see Pond Wife presented by Holly&Ted as part of Illuminate.
Illuminate is a festival that literally illuminates an underused performance space (the Studio at the New Wimbledon Theatre - and lovely it was too) and fills it with emerging and established small scale theatre companies. The general idea is that audiences see something they've not experienced before and I was the perfect candidate. I'll pretty much go and see anything, but because I am so overwhelmed with choice I'll often play it save. That turns out to be a pretty bad strategy, because I would definitely have missed this show that is one of the campest and fun things I've seen in Wimbledon in a while (and I've seen Dame Edna Everage, Matthew Kelly and Legally Blonde there!)
Pond Wife is a modern re-telling of Hans Christian Anderson's The Little Mermaid (more accurately, I think it may be Disney's version), through the eyes of a modern mermaid with a penchant for 90s/00s pop music. The re-telling of the story is very clever, although I feel that there may have been more integrity in using the original story as source material, rather than the cartoon. That said, one of the joys of Pond Wife is the constant re-imagining of characters that we recognise: Flotsam and Jetsam become Daphne and Celeste, Ariel's sisters become Destiny's Child and Prince Eric becomes Lucky (as in the Britney Spears song. Not as in 'he gets'.)
This sort of Lucky.
The show is only 45 minutes long, but is a veritable Now Album of pop music that never fails to get a good response from the audience. Some of the music is treated ironically, some of it reverentially and some of it even becomes dialogue that drives the characters. It's a good concept, but it does mean that the audience do sometimes have to take quite large leaps of faith when it comes to plot development and character motivation. There is every chance I'm missing the point here!
The show is performed by Holly Norrington and Teddy Lamb and they are fun and engaging company. Their only set is a bathtub, albeit one with a shimmer curtain and they use it in ways that my tine imagination could not possibly have conceived. As the audience walk in it's the ocean, with Ariel floating in shadow puppetry; it becomes a concert stage, a baddy's lair and even an actual bath tub. They do some clever things too, such as creating the illusion of swimming with a fan and a ton of glitter (anything could have happened after that, really. I'm going to have a glitter blowing fan installed in my flat now...). In the final moments there is a lovely coup de théâtre too as Ariel transforms back into a mermaid. Of course it comes complete with a Flashdance reference, but it's a moment of unexpected magic. Sleight of hand almost. Or Holly just slipped...
It is a very clever show. There are some awkward moments. Their talking into microphones at the start, about first album purchases outstays it's welcome and feels uncomfortable. It's a bit frenetic too. I feel like the pair could have done with someone to corral them and control their efforts. There were also a few moments that felt indulgent; almost as if the performer was fulfilling a fantasy and we just had to sit and watch; but for the most part it was fun and I'd highly suggest you ditch Bradley Cooper and see these two instead!