Before the adorable sentient snowman, the smash-hit song "Let It Go" and the world domination of Elsa, there was Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale The Snow Queen. First published in 1844, the story centers around a narcissistic snow queen (Frances Marshall) who kidnaps a boy, Cei (Esmonde Cole) to help her rebuild a magical mirror. Young Gerda (Ayesha Casely-Hayford) must go on an adventure through the seasons to find her friend and save him from being frozen.
Charles Way's stage adaptation of the tale stays faithful to Andersen's original, as it features an array of kooky characters from talking flowers and robber girls to a helpful reindeer called "Bae" (puppetry designed by Christopher Barlow). The coupling of what is actually quite a complex story with Abigail Anderson's fun ensemble direction does mean that some scenes tend to drag, and I notice that the children in the audience – loudly laughing and clapping at the top of the show – had a bit of an energy dip and become more engaged with their sweet packets than the action on stage.
But when the show gets it right, it really gets it right and has the whole room in stitches. The opening ensemble scenes are a delight to watch as the cast throw snowballs at each other, and a scene involving three talking flowers playing hide and seek is a hoot. Special mentions must go to both Justin Brett and Paula James for their turns as an arrogant Daffodil and sleepy Snowdrop respectively. It's these moments when the show embraces its most quirky aspects that it really shines. Gregor Donnelly's wooden set littered with triangles is the perfect backdrop for the many locations Gerda visits, and the cast makes the story's magic come to life through mime or handheld props, such as the paper cut-outs of buildings lit up by torches as the Snow Queen and Cei fly over the land.
The use of songs (composed by Christopher James Ash) are a mixed bag, with the ensemble numbers getting a huge reaction from the audience while the cast makes use of the fence and sticks on stage as percussion. Then there are slow numbers, such as an overly-long lullaby, which may have fared better with more confident singers. Ames Nicholson's sound design underscores the show perfectly, and Richard Williamson's lighting is beautiful – there are gasps when the bright green Northern Lights make an appearance, and another when the invisible fairy lights hanging from the ceiling brighten during the blackout. If anything, they're underused.
With all the charming moments in the show, there are some which may cause you to double-take and question what has happened. There's a scene in which Gerda and a Prince (who looks like Cei) are both blindfolded and kiss in a practice wedding ceremony, as well as swigging champagne straight from the bottle. For a character who is supposed to be school-age (presumable pre-teen), this moment feels – for want of another word – dodgy. It's uncomfortable to watch.
Despite perhaps attempting to do too many different things at once, this is both a faithful and charming adaptation of Andersen's classic winter tale which will captivate both young and older minds alike. If you don't want to be stuck in a busy cinema seeing a certain movie sequel, then this is a fun alternative.