Peoples Playhouse productions had their gadgets and gizmos a-plenty and their whozits and whatzits galore for their opening night of Disney’s The Little Mermaid at the Cranbourne Community Theatre on Friday night.

Peoples Playhouse is a company in Melbourne’s south east that many people probably have not heard of let alone been to see one of its shows. It is a community-based theatre, which we should all be grateful. A company that gives people a chance to direct, choreograph, and musically direct that otherwise would not have a chance. In doing so, many of their productions do not live up to the standard we expect from companies that spend a zillion dollars, nor do they have the resources of those larger companies. I found out many of the people on the committee are usually parents of children involved with the production at the time, and as far as budgets go, to say it’s very low is probably an understatement.

I’ve decided to concentrate on the positive things about this production instead of the negative, mainly because it’s companies like Peoples Playhouse that need encouragement and support from the wider theatre community, not tearing down in a scathing review.

Adam Nash and Joel Norman-Hade co directed The Little Mermaid. Together, the two have a lot of experience with directing shows for smaller companies. Putting on a show as large as this in a theatre with no fly tower is no mean feat. Overall, I would say the direction was good, although, rethinking on how you could expedite scene changes would have helped the shows flow. Don’t be afraid to have scene changes in the light, the audience knows what’s happening, and utilise your cast more with the changes, it gets them on quicker as well.

LM3Malcom Huddle was the Orchestral Director and Karen Hooper the Vocal Director. Huddle’s orchestra was in fine form opening night and his years of experience shone though. Hooper’s vocal direction was on the whole really good; another 5 or 6 guys would have helped the balance immensely.

First time choreographer, Alicia Loftus, did an amazing job with the cast that she had. ‘Positoovity’ was a highlight of the show. If a seagull tap dancing doesn’t make you smile, what will? One suggestion to Loftus would be to be careful of where you place your dancers; there were a few moments in the show where they were upstaging the main characters, then they had to turn around and look at them, in turn upstaging themselves, but overall well done.

The sound design and operation was by Starlite Productions. The sound was really good and even for most of the show. I am not sure what was going on when a big belt note was attacked, the sound seemed to fade out at these points. It was as if the mics could not cope with the loudness of the voices. This only happened a few times during the show so it was no big deal, but something to look at for future productions.

The lighting design was Daniel Jow, with lighting operation being handled by a young company member, Zach Krause. I’m not sure how the lighting is set up at the Cranbourne Community Theatre, but there were a number of occasions the lights just went on or off. There was no fading between lighting cues. Otherwise the lighting was quite spectacular and the choice of colours used was good.

Ariel was played but 15 y/o Olivia Horne, Horne was understudy to the part but had to go one when Jess Faulkner came down with a debilitating spinal issue. Horne needs to be commended on stepping into the role with only a few weeks notice. Horne was 100 percent committed to the role and gave everything she had to pulling of this role successfully.

Prince Eric was played by Giles Adams. Adams has a good singing voice, but I feel that, as a prince, he could have been more commanding on stage.

Samual Knol, played Ariel’s best friend Flounder. Knol gave us a sympathetic character who pines away after Ariel, to no avail.

Jacqui Swallow sang and danced up a storm as Scuttle. This was not the only time that the direction team decided to change the gender playing a part and it worked a treat. Swallows comic timing was great and her interpretation of the know-it-all seagull was well excellent.

LM2Timothy Haughton portrayed Ariel’s father, King Triton. Haughton had was very commanding when on stage, but I believe that when he was upset with Ariel, he could have been a lot angrier. Haughton had a great singing voice and, despite his lack of anger, held his character well.

Campbell Sewell was a stand out as Sebastian. Sewell’s comic timing and great voice helped him carry off a very difficult role.

An evil presence was bought forth by the nasty eels, Floatsam and Jetsam, played be Lizzy Faulkner and Jess Kaplonyi respectively. The girls sang well together and really looked the part with their neon makeup.

Lachlan Casey-Rouleff was hilarious as Chef Louis and used his comedic timing to the best of his abilities!

The stand out for this production was David Postill as Ursula. I was surprised to hear that they had a man playing the role and it was with trepidation that I went to see this show, not knowing what to expect. Postill really bought the character of Ursula to life. It was perhaps the only rounded out character within the whole production. Postill’s sing voice was great; just watch those couple of really high notes! Whenever Postill was on stage with his very elaborate costume, with his six little helpers as the tentacle movers, Postill was in his element – I’m glad to say that all of my doubts were put to rest.

The ensemble worked extremely hard whenever they were on stage and with the majority of them being below 15 y/o they did a great job of keeping focus and also holding character. Well done.

All in all, this is a great production to take the kids along to see during the school holidays – it certainly entertained the munchkins sitting next to me.

The Little Mermaid continues to play at The Cranbourne Community Theatre until July 15th.