ON the surface, you might expect this circus/musical version of Hans Christian Andersen's nautical fable to be a children's show, but adults will enjoy it just as much, if not more.

Making their York Theatre Royal debut, Metta Theatre's co-artistic director Poppy Burton-Morgan calls her nimble adaptation a "politically provocative, radical feminist re-imagining". "Beneath the waves, another world awaits those brave enough to dive in; a world of gender fluidity and fluctuating identities," she says.

This makes it a tale for our times, one that chimes with the spirit of Guillermo del Toro's Oscar-winning The Shape Of Water, but Metta's trademark female perspective does not weigh heavy on their subversive, gloriously visual storytelling. Younger audience members will note a woman on stage being strong and powerful: a potent role model in itself.

Marking the 250th anniversary of circus, Metta Theatre combine acrobatic skills, aerial feats, juggling and cyr-wheel spinning with recorded narration by Shirley Darroch; gorgeous 1950s' swimwear designs by Loren Elstein; a minimalist set design by William Reynolds and a lovely score by Matt Devereaux for cello, double bass and violin (the latter played by a particularly acrobatic cast member while suspended upside down in a harness!).

There is a pleasing flow and fluidity to Burton-Morgan's 70-minute show, even if we never see a drop of water, but we hear the waves, the splash of a dive, the gulls' cries, and the company-designed choreography certainly evokes movement through the briny.

In Metta's version, Little (Rosie Rowlands, sharing performances with Tilly Lee-Kronick) is the youngest of sibling mermaids, in her case half mer, half human. She has an absentee father and a long-dead mother, here played as the cruel Seawitch by Roo Jenkyn-Jones, with his wonderful cyr-wheel skills, who plucks out her exquisite siren-singing voice in the form of a crystal ball in exchange for Little developing legs to walk on land.

Her first steps are delightfully wobbly as she and Matt Knight's incredibly elastic Prince begin their journey on love's rocky path, with Burton-Morgan not stinting on criticism when he turns out to be fickle, before his desire to break free of the rigidity of his regal world, to do more than test the water with Little, prevails.

The ultimately uplifting story interweaves with the circus choreography smoothly and spectacularly, with the aerial feats and the ring work drawing bursts of applause, and the storyline tugging at the heartstrings. The cast of circus artists and actor-musicians is fantastic throughout, so multi-talented that they quite take the breath away.

After this wonderful water-world of a Theatre Royal debut for Metta Theatre, their return to York will surely be on the cards.

Metta's Little Mermaid, Metta Theatre, York Theatre Royal, 7pm tonight and tomorrow; 3pm and 7pm, Saturday. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk