I couldn’t help but admire the honesty of the programme of this stage adaptation of The Snowman, unashamedly based on both the book as well as the motion picture. With the passage of time I am only now vaguely familiar with either, and I had no idea that this has been turned into the annual Christmas production at the Peacock Theatre since 1997. There was one young mother who saw the show when she was herself a schoolgirl in 1998, and has now brought her husband and their two children. There have been several revisions and additions over the years, some minor, some major, and the cumulative work on this production is evident in quite how extraordinary it has become.
The younger members of the audience provide some entertainment too with their innocent heckling, practically all of which would be quite unacceptable elsewhere. Here, it adds to the theatrical experience, and provides for this reviewer some insights that I wouldn’t have thought about otherwise. Even if they are (ahem) unrepeatable.
The outdoor scenes are more impressive than anything in Cats at the London Palladium two-and-a-bit miles away, if only because there’s a greater range of species in the animal kingdom to be witnessed. (I scribbled down a list but realised on the way home it would be too much of a spoiler.) The show overall has a celebratory vibe about it – there’s even a limbo dance, though the rules are overly liberal. One girl attempted to emulate an on stage ballet by the Ice Princess (Caroline Crawley) in one of the aisles. As she was being coaxed back to her seat by her father, I suddenly realised I may or may not have just witnessed the moment when someone was so enchanted by what they saw that they decided to aspire to a theatrical career.
Interpretive dance engages children’s imaginations, allowing them to take what they will from this show – more argumentative siblings will doubtless have vociferous differences of opinion – and there is stunning and creative music throughout: a very substantial contribution to keeping up the momentum of the story, particularly when, in terms of plot development, there isn’t much going on apart from everyone having themselves a merry little Christmas.
After the interval, the dances and animals – and snowmen – kept coming, and at last the Peacock Theatre truly becomes ‘Sadler’s Wells in the West End’. The ‘Walking in the Air’ scene, split over both sides of the interval, sees The Boy (at this performance, Oscar Couchman) and The Snowman (either Martin Fenton or James Leece: it’s impossible to tell in a full blown snowman outfit!) credibly rise higher than even the back row of the circle. It left some children cheering and others silenced in awe. Couchman was so convincing and likeable that one child cried every time he left the stage and would only be fully pacified by his reappearance. Antony Edwards is a distinctly unportly Father Christmas, but we can’t have our cake and eat it – the trade-off is a Father Christmas that can participate fully in the dance routines without any of us worried that he may get a stroke, a hernia, or both.
This is one way of ensuring a white Christmas as opposed to merely dreaming about one. A wonderful and captivating rendering of a well-known story, it’s sentimental without being soppy, especially with an extended and upbeat curtain call kicking away what would otherwise have been a downbeat and heartbreaking finish. The Snowman has an elegance and sophistication not easy to achieve, particularly with such a simple narrative. With dynamic choreography, it’s a first-class experience, and an absolute triumph: festive family fun at its finest.
But don’t just take it from me. I have it on good authority from a younger member of the audience that there are significant differences between this stage show and what he called “the animation”. So this show is “not better or worse [than the original], but different, and it’s really interesting, and I really, really want to see it again”, and that’s why “people who will read your review should see it”.
He means you, in case I hadn’t made that clear. I don’t think we could have had a more glowing recommendation from the generation of computer games, apps and the internet.
Review by Chris Omaweng
A perennial family favourite, The Snowman has transported a generation of children and their families into the wintery world of a boy and his magical snowman. As a friendship is kindled, the two embark on a starry-skied adventure to the North Pole, where they meet dancing penguins, reindeer, Father Christmas and escape the clutches of Jack Frost.
With music and lyrics by Howard Blake, including Walking in the Air performed by a live band, choreographed by Robert North and directed by Bill Alexander, the stage show based on the book by Raymond Briggs and the subsequent film has become a much-loved festive tradition. Ruari Murchison’s enchanting design combined with Tim Mitchell’s spectacular lighting delight young and old alike with a captivating mix of dance, music, storytelling, spectacle and magic.
By arrangement with Snowman Enterprise Limited (A Penguin Company) and Chester Music Limited. The film of The Snowman was directed by Dianne Jackson and produced by John Coates.
Birmingham Repertory Theatre
25th November to 3rd January 2016
The Peacock, Portugal Street, Holborn, WC2A 2HT, London