The Child in the Snow review – a chilling evening of storytelling in an atmospheric setting
The two hander runs at Wilton's Music Hall
Few theatres can match Wilton's for a sense of festive magic, and a ghost story, partially set at Christmas, as their Yuletide offering feels like a superb fit. Based on Elizabeth Gaskell's The Old Nurse's Story, Piers Torday's play is an absorbing two hander that pushes most of the right buttons.
Hester Thornton (Safiyya Ingar) is a lonely Anglo-Indian orphan who served as a front line nurse during World War One but has a troubling absence of memory of her early years. She engages London medium Estelle Leonard (Debbie Chazen, flat out fabulous) to come to the remote Northumbrian estate she inherited to help her connect with her past. What follows is part memory play, part ghost story, and also a subtle critique of the British involvement in India.
If the storytelling could at times be clearer, the technical elements of the production are wonderfully on point, from Hayley Egan's wintry, unsettling video design to Jess Bernberg's atmospheric lighting, and Tom Piper's delightful setting of wood panelling and jagged bare trees that seamlessly merges with the Music Hall itself.
Ingar is a compelling presence but could delineate the differences between Hester as a child and an adult a little better. Chazen is clearly having a ball morphing from the faux genteel medium to a gruff but kind Northumbrian housekeeper, a disapproving Mancunian aunt and the imperious blind dowager who takes in the young Hester. Her accents are spot on and the physical specificity of each woman is splendidly done: it's a gorgeous performance.
The show is a lovely piece of storytelling, albeit with slightly too much emphasis on the telling rather than showing. Ultimately, The Child in the Snow doesn't do anything particularly new and is more pleasantly chilling than truly terrifying. It's wonderful to hear actors unmic-ed though, which provides an interesting contrast with some of the extravagances of Ed Lewis's sound design.
All in all, it's an enjoyable family treat (I tend to think older kids will be more engaged than the youngsters) in this most special of venues.