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Liam Sesay - Merboy Interview

Merboy written by Liam Sesay promises a poetic, queering retelling of Hans Christian Anderson's The Little Mermaid. 

The fantasy world of fairytale meets the dramatic yearnings of 1960s girl band music and the intense depths of gay shame in Merboy.

Using verse, storytelling and lip-synching, Merboy tells the story of a sexual awakening of mixed heritage queer boy navigating school homophobia and the brutal complexities of gay scene.  

The show, presented by Campfire Theatre, is playing at London's Omnibus Theatre where it runs from 21st February until 4th March. Tickets are available here.

Ahead of the production, I spoke to writer Liam to find out more about the show.

Can you tell me in your own words about the show?

It’s a bit bonkers. It’s a queer retelling of the Little Mermaid that starts in a swimming pool in Orpington but it’s also a commentary about how we, as an lgbtq+ Community, treat each other and how the pressures to conform to varying stereotypes within our community can quash our true selves. 

What inspired you to write the show?

There’s a letter from Hans Christian Andersen to his friend Edvard Collin that hints that The Little Mermaid is based on his love for him. When you look at the original story you can see so many things that can be interpreted as gay shame. Changing to be with someone and losing your voice, not being accepted into heaven until you’ve repented your sins.

I found this super fascinating, especially as it was my favourite story as kid. 

So I decided to write it. 

What has the development process been like for Merboy?

I’ve been meaning to write it for around 15 years! Dinah Mullen our sound designer and I were working together on a show when I first got the idea and I’ve been developing it since then. We are using 1960s girl band songs and we loved how ridiculously dramatic they were and how they really encompassed teen angst. 
It started as a straight forward retelling, then I thought about the story I really wanted to tell and it became a bit more autobiographical.

There’s a scene in Merboy when his teacher uses his towel to dry his feet. That actually happened to me at school in the 90s and because I loved him, I could never use that towel again. Because I thought I’d catch aids. I was only 10! That’s how homophobic and terrifying the rhetoric around HIV and Aids was in the 90s. I thought this would be a great place to start our story about shame. 

With this being ‘a poetic and queer retelling of The Little Mermaid’ what do you want audiences to take away from the show?

I can’t tell you what happens at the end but I’d love an audience to walk away having had a fun time, there’s lots of calmness and giggles but I also want an audience to leave appreciating the struggle LGBTQ+ people face especially those who don’t conform to the acceptable face of being LGBTQ+. To celebrate difference and think how refreshing was it to see queer people of all ages on stage. 

What does theatre mean to you?

Theatre to me, should be a collaborative, unpredictable, exciting and a space to think. I want to see the best and the worst of the human race on stage through them learn more about the world. That’s my desire for Campfire, we’ve seen countless gay plays about white middle class men with abs, but there are few lesbian plays performed, few trans plays, few working class queer plays, few neurodivergent queer plays. I want to see places and people I rarely see on stage or people and places I’ve never met before. 

Why should anyone come and see Merboy?

Because it’s a funny, silly, heartbreaking, heart-warming story told by an incredible creative team and cast. It's visually stunning and it’s only 80mins and tickets are fairly cheap too, so even if you don’t like it is quick and there’s great restaurants nearby! 

Merboy runs at London's Omnibus Theatre from 21st February until 4th March. Tickets are available here.
Liam Sesay.

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