INTERVIEW: LIAM SESAY TALKS MERBOY
Presented by Campfire Theatre, Merboy is a semi-autobiographical queer re-telling of Hans Christian Andersens classic, The Little Mermaid. About the sexual awakening of a mixed- race, queer boy. Peppered with 60s love songs, this heart-warming camp tale gives hope to anyone who doesn't feel like they belong.
Merboy combines the fantasy world of fairy tale with the dramatic yearnings of 1960s girl band music from iconic groups including The Shangri-las, The Crystals and The Ronettes.
While dealing with deep themes of gay shame, family honour, and self-worth through poetic verse, visual storytelling, and lip-syncing. Merboy examines the echoes of cautionary tales told by parents to their children, as well as the dangers of loving too much.
The show plays a part in the Omnibus theatre’s LGBTQ+ history month I got the pleasure to interview the writer of the show Liam Sesay to find out more about the show and why Merboy is so important for this day and age.
What is Merboy about?
It’s a fun queer re-telling of the Little Mermaid that starts when he’s 12 in a swimming pool in Orpington until he becomes an adult. It’s about not quite fitting in and being a fish out of water.
What is the central message of the show?
Merboy feels the pressures to conform to stereotypes and be the person everyone else wants him to be but in the end it’s about learning to love himself and embrace his differences.
What's the show’s target audience that you’re aiming for?
Our cast are aged between 23 and 63 so we really hope people of all ages come to see the show. It’s a coming of age story so I really hope young people going through similar things to Merboy come to see it and feel less alone. I certainly felt on the outside and weird as a teenager and could have done with the comfort of knowing i’m not alone. that’s what i’d love this show to do.
Why is it important for Merboy to be performed in this day and age?
It’s not easy being LBGTQ+ especially for young people and at the moment especially for young trans people. Our government and our schools aren’t doing enough to protect young trans people and this encourages violence against them. It’s really important that we fight against bullying in any form and we encourage and support young people be who they truly are. We need to let them know the world is a much richer place having them here.
Why do letters from Hans Christian Anderson inspire you?
There is a letter from Hans Christian Anderson to his friend Edvard Collin that suggest The Little Mermaid is about Anderson’s love for Collin. It is widely thought that Anderson was bisexual. I found it very interesting that the fairytales we’re told are all about straight relationships but the man who wrote them wasn’t straight and if he lived today in a much more tolerant time, I wonder if The Little Mermaid would have been a Little Merboy?
What made you want to use music from the 60s?
As the play is a little autobiographical I remember loving 1960s girl band music when I was little and dancing in my room to the songs, sometimes with my mum. My mum came to London from Sierra Leone in the 1960s and she looked like she should be in The Ronettes. Also the songs are mega dramatic and theatrical.
What is it that you want the audience to take away after the show?
I want the audience to have smiles on their faces and songs in their hearts! The moral of the story is to love yourself and be your best person so I hope that rubs off and everyone leaves feeling beautiful and loved!
How did you find a way to get the message across to the audience about the Hans christian Anderson references in this day and age?
We’ve modernised the play and it’s about my own experiences coming out and the difficulty I felt fitting in to the LGBTQ+ community. Once you look for the queer references in the original it makes a lot of sense and was fun to update.
How important is it to perform Merboy during LGBTQ+ history month?
It’s really important. Our wonderful Director Scott Le Crass has directed three shows during this month all stories rarely heard onstage. Often queer theatre can be about what, middle class, cis gendered men. It’s important to remember that we are not only that. We are all different ages, races, sizes, abilities. It’s the only story about a working class, mixed race boy that I knows on at the moment.
Describe the show in one sentence
Camp thoughtful fun! It was far harder to be bisexual in those days, its a lot easier now.
Merboy stars Kemi Clarke he/him, will lead the company and play the role of Merboy. He will be joined by Yasmin Dawes she/her, as Siren 1 / Mother, Ralph Bogard, he/him as Siren 2 / Sea Witch and Anthony Psaila, he/him as Siren 3 / Sailor.
With also a creative team including Director: Scott Le Crass (He/Him) Designer: Ica Niemz (He/They) Sound Designer: Dinah Mullen (She/Her) Lighting Designer: Joe Price (He/Him) Movement Director: Carl Harrison (He/Him)
Merboy plays at the Omnibus theatre till Saturday 4th March 2023.