The Snow Queen (Royal & Derngate, Northampton)
Gary Sefton directs Georgia Pritchett’s very silly adaptation
A camp Scandinavian reindeer, a bickering Snow White and Prince Charming and a comedy witch straight out of Monty Python may not be authentic Hans Christian Andersen fairytale characters. But in Georgia Pritchett's very silly adaptation, under Gary Sefton's impeccable direction, they steal the show.
There's the ghost of Andersen's original story in this version of The Snow Queen somewhere, with young pals Gerda and Kai tackling the embittered Snow Queen to free themselves from her icy grip, but here it is all about the fun to be had along the way. Rather in the style of the Shrek movies, plenty of liberties are taken with classic characters and much-loved tales, giving them modern twists and imaginative alternative narratives.
So we're introduced to the air-headed Snow White and her nice-but-dim prince, thoroughly regretting the rashness of marrying on the back of a waking kiss and with their own very different interpretations of what ‘happy ever after' should look like. There's a Red Riding Hood with an insane bloodlust, a wicked witch who just wants to bake tasty cakes and that adorable reindeer, whose accent is almost as cute as his ears.
All these are thrown in to a mix of fast-paced action and funny lines. Nothing is allowed to stand still for very long, and Sefton's sensitivity to a young audience's tolerance levels is acute. His track record of Christmastriumphs at the Royal & Derngate is enviable, and this is another to add to the list. He has the remarkable ability to cover every angle – visual, aural, magical – to create a 360-degree show.
His team serve him well in this regard. Dougal Irvine's songs may be slight but they don't outstay their welcome, and his incidental music, coupled with Giles Thomas's haunting soundscape, is highly atmospheric – one might even say chilling. Ti Green's set design, placing the action on a simple blue diamond of stage space, is almost minimalist but works very effectively, while Richard Godin's lighting and Harrison White's musical direction are pitch-perfect. It's a shame the music is on backing tracks, but maybe Northampton can put a live band on the Christmas list for next year.
The seven performers cover a multitude of characters between them. Mona Goodwin and Jonny Weldon hold the tale together as the children, with Caroline Head in stylish form as the icy Snow Queen herself. Tosin Olomowewe offers a cheeky rapping raven to help Gerda in her search for Kai and Angela Bain is completely off the wall as the wacky witch. Mairi Barclay doubles nicely as Snow White and Red Riding Hood, while Richard Pryal gets the pick of the cameos as the preening prince and that oh-so-lovable reindeer.
With some mildly scary bits – a wonderful puppet troll, for instance – and a steady parade of larger-than-life characters, this is a festive treat that nods towards its Hans Andersen origins then takes delicious liberties in the successful search for laughs.
Running time: 2 hours