Note: The following review dates from the production's original West End run in December 1998.
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's a snowman. A six-foot tall one, suspended 25 feet above the Arctic Ocean with a slightly bewildered little boy in tow. All of which can mean just one thing: this is the famous "Walking in the Air" set piece from the Raymond Briggs fantasy, The Snowman.
It's also, quite literally, the high point of the show (which is based on Briggs' animated film). Howard Blake's magnificent orchestral score builds to a crescendo, the young faces in the audience light up, projected snow tumbles against the gauze-cloth, and I swear there's barely a dry eye in the house.
Which is obviously why the producers have decided to milk the scene for all its worth; the song appears as both a substantial act one finale, and straddles the 20-minute interval to provide the opening to act two.
The rest of the production, it has to be said, doesn't reach the same part of the stratosphere, either physically or artistically speaking. Ruari Murchison's set designs are a charmless attempt to ape the Briggs originals and Robert North's choreography, while it occasionally delights, is for the most part an exercise in vapidity. Indeed, his strutting penguins, reindeer, and assorted snow people seem to have pinched all the worst bits from shows like Tales of Beatrix Potter and The Nutcracker.
My other bugbear is that the scenario (written by Blake, North and director Bill Alexander) feels gossamer-thin, with much time being wasted on boring details like the youngster getting undressed and donning his pyjamas, or a dull magic act.
For those not already familiar with the story, it features a young lad whose snowman comes to life, takes him to the North Pole to meet Santa and snowmen from other lands, flies him home again and, predictably, meets a slushy ending. According to Briggs, the story is a thinly-disguised metaphor for death, although most children would probably choose to take the tale at its face value.
The Snowman is certainly no masterpiece but, that said, most of the kiddies seemed to enjoy it, cooing, whooping and waving at the on-stage beano. The mums and dads too, went away happy, turning a blind-eye to the myriad technical glitches, for once just grateful that their little'uns weren't bored enough to be climbing out of their seats or falling asleep.
- Richard Forrest