Whiter Than Snow is the story of the Frantz family travelling players, all persons of restricted growth, or as Frieda, the daughter of the piece points out, ‘short’. Accompanied by Vera, the family Sign Language Interpreter and Sam, their loyal stage manager, they move from place to place with their show, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Except that in their version it is Snow White and the four dwarfs, because “the other three got a better offer”.
As well as performing the Snow White play-within-a-play, they tell the story of what happens when they meet Regina, a scientist obsessed with eugenics, and her clone ‘daughter’ Eirwin. This setup is confusing at first and may require whispered explanations by the parents of younger children, but clever staging and an engaging story soon clear up any misunderstandings.
For the benefit of blind or deaf audience members, the action is described as it takes place and Vera signs along with everyone’s lines. Rather than this distracting from the storytelling, as one might fear, it is integral to the play and handled with great humour. Jude Mahon’s Vera is gleefully naughty and hugely likeable.
The story is all important in this production, making Whiter Than Snow an enjoyable piece of theatre at the very simplest level. But Graeae go beyond mere storytelling and drop ideas into the action that will make children and adults alike reconsider their attitudes to a broad range of topics, including ‘normality’, eugenics, and home. They succeed in stimulating debate without ever becoming didactic. The honesty and humour with which the company address their differences is refreshing to watch.
There are a couple of moments when triteness filters through, the ‘family song’ being a case in point. There is no need for it and lyrics such as “We’ll never be all the same” undermine the wit and subtlety of the rest of the script. It would be better to lose it altogether and allow the excellent storytelling to speak for itself.
Not everyone in the cast shines, but Tom Thomasson, who doubles as Sam and Regina, is highly skilled and totally believeable in both roles. Kiruna Stamell leads the company as Frieda and gives a performance that is at once sensitive and very funny.
Graeae’s aim is to showcase the excellence of disabled artists and this show does exactly that. More importantly however it tells a wonderful story that will captivate audiences of all ages. Roll up, roll up, to the “Biggest Littlest Show in the World”.
- Jo Caird