Pond Wife is a feminist version of The Little Mermaid. With a set based around a bathtub, Holly & Ted spend an hour dancing and hurling glitter around the place as they retell the tale of a mermaid who comes to the land not to find an eligible prince, but to dance, discover her own voice and put a crack in the glass ceiling.
It’s a bit rough around the edges and that is entirely perfect. What this really feels like is a celebration; a loveletter to a 90s childhood. This is a front-room style tribute act; this is friends on the dancefloor at someone’s ninth birthday falling into a heap of laughter during the macarena; this is fans really indulging in the music that shadowed their earliest experiences. It’s great.
But it’s also better than that, because it critiques the culture we were fed. The Little Mermaid was released in 1989 and, thanks to a couple of absolute belters in that film (honestly, who doesn’t still want to spin around their room to Part of Your World?), it became key in the 90s kid film roster despite it’s questionable morals. That film, in which Ariel sacrifices her voice for some sexy human lady legs, taught a whole generation of girls that if you change yourself and if you’re hot enough you can shack up with a prince, before abandoning your family and entire way of life to be with him forever. Holly & Ted do away with the prince, and focus on the mermaid. Our mermaid is curious and clever, and she wants to hear music up beyond the surface. She wants to smash the glass ceiling, not reinforce it. They create the story that I, as a grown up 90s kid staring up at the glass ceiling (largely made of theatres who have no female executive staff btw), needed, rather than the sacharin one I got.
It also draws beautiful, quiet attention to the tension between the message in a song and the creation of an icon. Lucky, the play’s primary pop star, is a construct made by producers to make young girls worship her. She is a tool of capitalism, a character intended to make money. Team captains of 90s pop were The Spice Girls, the ultimate girl power group. But actually, they were put together by a group of men through auditions, and none of them got their own name and was instead assigned an adjective – which isn’t exactly tip top feminisn. Pond Wife seizes the messages from those 90s pop songs and puts them into practiceto make a feminist work, while encouraging you to interrogate the culture you received as well as the people who made it.
On the surface, though, it’s mostly about just enjoying the glitter, bubbles and most perfect use of jelly sandles in costumes ever.