An Interview with Toby Sedgwick, Movement Director on The Little Mermaid

With almost one week until its opening the Theatre has been filled to the brim with watery sea sets and the sounds of ocean song as The Little Mermaid makes its last preparations for the stage. Toby Sedgwick, winner of the 2008 Olivier Award for Best Theatre Choreographer for War Horse and choreographer of the London 2012 Olympic Games, is no stranger to tackling this challenging transformation. We caught up with him to ask him about the show…

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What does your role on the production entail?

I think fundamentally my role as Director of Movement has several dimensions to it. The prime objective is to create the illusion of the little mermaid swimming and moving freely in the depths of the sea. This entails creating many different ways of puppeting or lifting the little mermaid to simulate the action and freedom of swimming underwater. We try to do this in such a way that the audience’s imagination invests in the image created and they cease to see ‘the puppeteers’. Instead they follow the dynamic and flow of the little mermaid’s movement.

Another aspect of my role is to invent and structure the moves of the little mermaid so that they have a dynamic, a visual and a strong rhythmical element. I also have a strong input into the physical structure of a scene which involves working closely with Simon Godwin (the director). This is always more prominent in devised work like this. This also inevitably involves clarity of the body language and always includes the physical gags too.

How do you prepare for a show like this?

I read the script as many times as is necessary to understand the main thrust and meaning of a scene. Then I let my imagination conjure up how the scene should move or be moved and think of images and movements that enhance and carry the story forward.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

I think the biggest challenge so far has been keeping the mermaid floating off the ground! Creating an underwater environment and exploring the qualities of movement for all the other characters that inhabit these deep waters has been particularly challenging.

What’s been the most fun?

Working with this incredibly enthusiastic, inventive, imaginative cast and creative team, bouncing ideas off each other and creating images of clarity and purpose.

What are you most looking forward to in the upcoming weeks?

Seeing the story unfold on the stage of Bristol Old Vic with lights, sound, set and actors, and watching an audience in full celebration mode loving every watery minute, until the lights dim to signify “le fin”.

What’s next for you?

After this I have a few projects to move on to. I am doing movement direction on a feature film Frankenstein with director Paul McGuigan, Daniel Radcliffe and James McAvoy. I am also working with Simon McBurney (Complicite), taking our opera A Dog’s Heart to Lyon Opera House, France. I will also squeeze in a few days off!

The Little Mermaid runs from 28 Nov – 18 Jan. Find out more here.

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