Review: Merboy, Omnibus Theatre

A queer retelling of The Little Mermaid, Merboy doesn’t really do it for me at the Omnibus Theatre

“Marooned out at sea
and the greedy moon is fat
Fed by the tide
to show far and wide
That I have grown”

On the face of it, a queer retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid could work. Liam Sesay’s Merboy is a bold attempt, clearly personally felt in its sem-autobiographical nature, as it blends camp frivolity with altogether more serious thematic leanings. But in its desire to be so poetic, it ends up kinda missing the mark.

Repurposing the narrative to explore the sexual awakening of a mixed-race queer boy, there’s a deliberately retro styling that folds in a soundtrack of 1960s girl group songs. And through rhyming verse, storytelling and lip-syncing, racist and homophobic slurs sit alongside Merboy’s journey of revelation in a somewhat disjointed mix.

There’s clearly thought behind the work from director Scott Le Crass and movement director Carl Harrison to create an otherworldly vibe but the result is that it is too easy to feel emotionally estranged. Production values are strong in the musical numbers but the retro vibe often jars against contemporary cultural references.

Kemi Clarke’s Merboy elevates the work as he holds from the centre but there’s a slight sense of chaos around him as the Greek Chorus of Ralph Bogard, Yasmin Dawes and Anthony Psaila multi-role as Seawitch, Mother and Sailor respectively. A concept in need of further refining to really tempt us under the sea.

Running time: 80 minutes (without interval)
Photo: Claire Bilyard
Merboy is booking at the Omnibus Theatre until 4th March

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