One of Hans Christian Anderson’s most famous stories is radically reimagined by Ciaran McConville in this festive Rose Theatre Kingston Production. The Snow Queen follows on from McConville’s successful production last year of Hansel & Gretel, and just like in that production, a small group of professional actors are joined by the Rose Theatre Youth Company who take on many of the main speaking roles, as well as forming an enthusiastic ensemble.
The story is transported to the workshop of Father Christmas, and as faithful elf, Ribbons loads the last parcel on to the sleigh, Joy finds a piece of magic mirror. Her fellow elves conjour up the stories of fifteen years ago, to show Joy how the elves of Evergreen defeated the trolls, and the Snow Queen, with a little help from Gerda, Kai and a lovable reindeer named Bancu.
In a visually appealing staging, the workshop in David Farley’s set transforms to a gritty city, an ice palace, and even a swashbuckling pirate ship in spectacular fashion. Charlie Morgan Jones’ lighting design accentuates the visual allure as the magical Northern Lights flicker overhead, or the Snow Queen’s ice magic projects out in to the audience. There’s plenty of stage trickery too, that delights the older audience members as well as the youngest.
Anyone who has sat through a performance for children knows that young audience members do not wait until the performance ends to share their thoughts on what’s happening. But about half way through the first act, the restlessness and chatter ceased, as it seems every child was utterly captivated by what they were seeing, and continued to be so for the remainder of the performance.
This version of The Snow Queen retains the original’s themes of good versus evil, but injects it with a healthy dose of high adventure, and a spirit of hope. It’s wonderfully endearing, and to see so many young performers bursting with unbridled enthusiasm was nothing short of joyous. There are just a handful of songs in McConville’s adaptation, and while none of them really come close to matching the intense adventure of the narrative, they do help break up the story a little for those younger audience members.
In the professional cast Helena Blackman’s wonderfully chilling portrayal of The Snow Queen certainly sent shivers up a few spines, while Jack Wolfe demonstrates tremendous versatility, moving deftly from the charming cheeky chappie, to the traitor under the Snow Queen’s spell. Parisa Shahmir leads the cast admirably as Gerda, bringing her own touch of magic to the role.
There are two casts for the youth company, who alternate their performances. The ‘blue cast’ who performed on press night were exceptional, but special mention should go to Eleanor Clark for her efficient Ribbons, Jacob Towey for his gloriously funny Sampo, and Katherine Liley for her impassioned Kivi. Perhaps the highlight of the performance though, for both adults and children alike, was Francis Redfern who brought an irresistible charm and perfect comic timing to the voice of Bancu.
There’s certainly a nod or two Disney’s Frozen, but Ciaran McConville’s The Snow Queen stands up on its own as a wonderful Christmas treat for the whole family. There’s a line that’s repeated; “Hope is in all of us, and the darker the winter, the brighter it shines”, and as outside, in the real world, we enter another dark winter, isn’t that a message we can all hold on to.