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Review of The Snow Queen at Theatre N16

The Snow QueenIt’s what lies beneath the surface in The Snow Queen that gives this production much more than what is immediately visible at first sight. A set comprised largely of cardboard boxes greets the audience as it files in, leaving me wondering if the said Snow Queen is ‘moving palace’ (as opposed to ‘moving house’).

There isn’t, in the end, anything about anybody moving house, palace, castle or studio flat – and it’s what’s in those boxes, gradually revealed as useful props for whatever stage of the story we happen to be at, that proves to be a near-continuous source of interest and even fascination.

This wasn’t one of those family-friendly pieces of theatre that left me having to make allowances for the fact that it’s geared towards children: it is quite animated and spirited for anyone, really. Both Kay (James Tobin) and Greta (Jessica Arden) bookend the quick-paced show by encapsulating childlike (not the same as ‘childish’) behaviours, while the Narrator (Jessica Strawson) confidently asserts a varied and engaging tone. I was impressed – Strawson had the younger members of the audience captivated without them feeling they were being talked down to.

Those very familiar with the original work by Hans Christian Andersen will have fun noting what’s been kept in and taken out – there are a reduced number of characters, for instance, but still quite a few played between the trio of actors. There are plenty of contemporary references thrown in, setting the show firmly in the present day, which mostly works. I say ‘mostly’ – there is one debatable but nonetheless significant flaw. In the search that Greta undertakes to find Kay, who has inexplicably (at least initially) disappeared without trace, it is surprising that Greta does not take to social media. This is mitigated by the characters being children of primary school age (the exact age is not specified, I don’t think, even in Andersen’s original), and she therefore, may not have access to online networks.

Some inclusion of fragments of chart music went over my head somewhat, though I hasten to add this is due to my own ignorance rather than a deficiency in the production (who or what is ‘Little Mix’?). Subtle but effective use of projections – never overused – was pleasing to see, and laugh-out- loud laughter from the audience punctuates the proceedings throughout. In true festive style, some punchlines elicit groans, or at least laughter of a sardonic kind.

While the detailed descriptions help enormously in places, it is occasionally a tad too much, leaving little, if anything, to the imagination. Overall, it’s a steadily paced production, and rather like the reinterpretation in the musical Rent of the opera La Boheme, this version of The Snow Queen has an altogether more positive ending for one of its characters.

Devoid of the religious content of the original, a more inclusive and universal message of positivity is no bad thing. An underlying message about focusing more on positivity cannot be repeated enough, sending the audience out appropriately both contented and with food for thought. This is a pleasant and delightful retelling of a classic tale.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Greta’s brother, Kay, has been acting strange. He’s mean and moody and won’t play games. The Snow Queen must have snatched him, and left an imposter in his place.

With her new friend, the wise-cracking, fame-hungry talking Crow to guide her, Greta must set out across the snow to search for her brother in the Snow Queen’s palace and bring him home in time for Christmas.

Funny, magic and full of surprises, this new modern adaptation of The Snow Queen is a perfect family Christmas adventure.

  Directed by Scott Ellis and Tatty Hennessy.
Sun 11th – Thurs 22nd December


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