THE sun was shining over the city of Salford, as boys and girls, accompanied by their parents and guardians, filled out the seats at The Lowry theatre, for a special matinee performance of The Tap Dancing Mermaid. Quays News entertainment reporter Charlotte Sumner went along…

Mermaids and dancing, the title itself ties together cheerful children everywhere. This solo performance lets the little ones imagination’s run wild, with the help of protagonist Marina Skippet’s (Tessa Bide) interactional story telling of song, dance, puppetry, and even some ukulele strumming.

A tale told about a young girl Marina, who longs to be the best tap dancer in the world, is observed everyday by our nocturnal narrator, The Moon, as she practises her dancing at the beach outside her home. Though her wicked Auntie, portrayed by a puppet, will do anything it takes to get rid of the tippetty-tapping made against her floorboards.

It’s quite astonishing to believe Bide devised this play single-handedly as it’s so beautifully written and performed, with many Brechtian devices of song, dance and completely breaking down the fourth wall to engage with the audience.

These playful techniques proved popular amongst the audience as the kids loved to get involved: getting up on stage with Marina, participating in a game of hide & seek with Merman Leo (another puppet) and singing along to a lullaby, which lyrics were written down on pieces of paper tucked under our designated theatre seats, notably a warming touch.

Of course, there were times when crying babies, rustled sweet wrappers and exciting chatter between children took over, but that was all part of the experience. Bide’s stage presence remained strong and steady, knowing when to take moments of pauses for noise to settle, and always staying in character when improvising, reinforcing she is a natural when it comes to connecting with children.

Innovative theatre for families is what Bristol-based Bide aims to create, and she certainly does a good job of it. Funded by Arts Council England, The Tap Dancing Mermaid started touring in 2013, and has been involved in festivals including the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2015.

In August, 2015, Bide published the book, which can be bought on Amazon. Having all the elements of a Grimm’s fairy-tale, but embedded with a quirky unique plot, it’s definitely a story which takes children on a journey of adventure, leaving their imaginations running for days.

This play is made for families with little children, thus, definitely not appropriate for older ages to view alone, as you will probably feel very out of place, and a little bit silly. Nevertheless, it was a fun experience, but would have been a lot more enjoyable viewing it with a younger relative.

By Charlotte Sumner

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