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Review: The Snow Queen (Liverpool Everyman)

The Liverpool Everyman's rock 'n' roll panto returns to the city in style

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Barbara Hockaday, Nicola Martinus-Smith and Danny Burns in The Snow Queen
© Robert Day

There's a shadowy sense of mystery at the heart of The Snow Queen. It's a tale that leads you through the dangerous magic of a frozen world.

Naturally, I'm referring here to Hans Christian Andersen's enigmatic original rather than the Everyman's family-sized acid blotter of a pantomime, a show in which the delicate fairy-tale is trampled beneath a pair of garish Doc Martens.

That's fine though. This theatre's annual rock 'n' roll panto is always a silly affair that throws off the storytelling shackles, delivering nonsensical leaps of logic punctuated by riffs and rhymes, power chords and pyrotechnics.

Created (as usual) by writers Sarah A Nixon and Mark Chatterton – who also directs – the show rolls like a snowball through its Snow Queen source before picking up hints of Narnia, a few perky Midsummer Night's Dream-ish fairies and some S&M-tinted ice-cream themed giddiness. And then everyone sings Beyoncé.

And it's brilliant fun.

At the heart of the theatrical blizzard is the multi-skilled cast, who simultaneously deliver superb comic routines, power the electrifying on-stage band, and twist and twirl themselves into knots during the note-perfect songs. Without missing a beat, (under the musical direction of Greg Last), they churn out power ballads and rock classics, disco gems and new wave weirdness, all moulded round the rapidly disintegrating plot.

It's an entirely uncynical soundtrack, never relying on current hits to keep the kids engaged. Instead, the generation-straddling audience gorges on Kenny Loggins and Devo, Keane and Katrina and the Waves.

Sometimes songs are sung straight. At other times, some crafty wordplay induces gloriously painful groans. Queen fans, for instance, might enjoy the unhinged operatic pomp of "I want to fight with icicles".

If the scene-setting and exposition sometimes hang too heavily, the dips in energy are fortunately brief. The momentum of that mighty Snow Queen snowball keeps things rolling faster and more furiously as the show progresses, and the second half in particular is packed with laughs.

Everyman panto favourites, Adam Keast and Francis Tucker, are old hands when it comes to building that wonderful, almost-corpsing panto hysteria, but the rest of the cast deliver their share of hilarity too. And this year, Danny Burns deserves a special mention for his compellingly repellent Mr Whippy character. He's a real Flake-topped grotesque.

Ultimately, the Everyman panto seems to exist in a world beyond criticism. If it makes you laugh and it makes you clap, and it sends you out onto Hope Street singing "Whip It" for the first time since 1980, it's done its job. Whether you can make head or tail of the plot turns out to be neither here nor there.

So yes, there is an exquisitely nuanced, crystalline show to be made from Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen, and this rock ‘n' roll pantomime is not it. But if you want to be bullied into doing a stupid dance routine and hear a very funny joke about Penguin Classics, the Everyman is where you should be.