“Merboy” at the Omnibus Theatre London delivers a captivating and poignant retelling of “The Little Mermaid,” exploring themes of queer identity and the sacrifice of one’s self for the pursuit of a dream. While the show certainly delivers on the (expected) camp, it also offers unexpected moments of emotional resonance that are sure to leave the audience touched to the core.
At the heart of the production is Merboy, a femme queer archetype who becomes enamoured with a Sailor, a masculine queer archetype. To explore this new romance, Merboy makes a deal with the Sea Witch, sacrificing body and soul to pursue this dream relationship. Sounds familiar, but it’s not just a straightforward retelling of the Disney movie or even of the original fairytale by Hans Christian Andersen. The delicate and poetic storyline is told in classic rhyme form and is enhanced by the choreography which is both fun and engaging to watch. From lip sync performances to the rhythm of songs from the ’60s to much more contemporary physical forms of expression, the stage at the Omnibus Theatre constantly moves and almost floats to the rhythm of music and rhymed script.
The stage design is a blend of disco and sea, featuring a huge inflated golden shell on one side and glittery blue and silver foil strips on the walls. The show’s old-school vibe is fun and almost nostalgic, but also brings back the feel of the times when queer culture and lifestyle were surrounded by myths and negative connotations, especially during the AIDS pandemic. The character bringing these caring-yet-threatening vibes is the religion-driven Merboy’s mother, played brilliantly by Yasmin Davis. Davis gives a fantastic performance, switching between a “drag queen” chorus member, with a huge wig on her head and a sassiness to her moves, and a conservative mother, in seconds.
With its fusion of heartfelt storytelling, fun movement choreography, and a stage set that combines disco and sea elements, “Merboy” at the Omnibus Theatre in London delivers a captivating performance. The storyline is written to especially resonate with the audiences who identify as queer and includes multiple puns and cultural references that are, I suppose, only fully understood if you’re a part of the community. As much as I enjoyed the performance, certain puns just didn’t fully work for me as I wasn’t aware of their meaning.
Kemi Clarke as Merboy triumphs with a powerful and nuanced performance that brings depth and emotion to the character’s journey. His transformation from a teenager uncertain about his own emotions, through the discovery of his first infatuation, into getting to a decision about changing his nature. It’s a well-rounded interpretation of a striking story of one person’s life’s voyage. Ralph Bogard’s portrayal of the Sea Witch adds a vibe of over-the-top, almost drag performance, which balances Clarke’s seriousness in a great way.
“Merboy” is a must-see for anyone interested in exploring the complexities of queer identity and the sacrifices one might make to pursue their dreams.
Merboy plays at the Omnibus Theatre until March 4th.
Tickets available at: https://www.omnibus-clapham.org/merboy
Kemi Clarke (he/him) – Merboy
Yasmin Dawes (she/her) – Siren 1/Mother
Ralph Bogard (he/him) – Siren 2/ Sea Witch
Anthony Psaila (he/him) – Siren 3/ Sailor
Director: Scott Le Crass (He/Him)
Writer: Liam Sesay (He/Him)
Designer: Ica Niemz (He/They)
Sound Designer: Dinah Mullen (She/Her)
Lighting Designer: Joe Price (He/Him)
Movement Director: Carl Harrison (He/Him)
Photos in the article credited to Claire Bilyard
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