The Snow Queen at Waterside Arts – review

The Wrongsemble production runs until 30 December

A scene from The Snow Queen at Waterside Arts
A scene from The Snow Queen at Waterside Arts, provided by the production

Christmas, you might’ve thought, would be the one time we’d be granted a break from the doom of waste, global warming and the destruction of our planet. Not so in Wrongsemble’s eco-conscious family show. If some of its ideas seem a little wrongheaded, it does manage to make those sober subjects cheery and at least a little festive.

It’s something of a snow flurry itself, scampering through its hour-long story. After a brisk set-up from Madge, the Snow Queen – a deity who controls the weather – we follow a girl called Lumi who tries to find out why they’ve apparently been withholding snow.

Here, the Snow Queen is actually a drag queen, though it’s never explained or particularly integrated – even kept to one separate side of the stage. There’s some wry wordplay – describing themselves as “refrigerated royalty” – and a connection is drawn between the iciness of the character and the camp haughtiness of the persona. But the diva reactions and attitude feel incongruent with the simple, young pitching of the production, and slightly indulgent, not least following their introduction of this modest family show as a “cabaret”.

However, Alistair Fox’s lighting brings the two closer together. The moon is dotted with vanity mirror bulbs around its edges. Others dangle from the ceiling to suggest stars, and there are green glows for the northern lights.

Live music is played by Richard Priestley on piano and Molly-Grace Cutler on guitar. While songs cycle through genres, keeping it varied with different tempos, they never land on anything particularly catchy or magical. The scenes themselves tend to establish and then repeat a couple of components, which makes them accessible for children but lacking the kind of surprises to properly delight them.

While more variety comes from the characters Lumi encounters, they’re also not without shortcomings. A tortoise that carts landfill in its shell and shopping trolley seems odd considering the common images of turtles snagged in plastic. Likewise, a technology-hoarding polar bear feels a strange choice considering their association with the threat of extinction from climate change. Both could work satirically, but the show never raises irony.

Cutler nevertheless does a great job multi-roling as them all, never dropping energy or the different accents. Another is a fretful elf whose name, Oops, and brown uniform allude to UPS. While it’s a fresh spin on Santa’s North Pole workforce, all the discussions of workers’ rights, exploitation and being overworked as a result of consumerism seem too advanced for kids’ interests. Its attempts to smuggle in lessons without being worthy – referencing sustainability tips as briefly and lightly as possible – end up making it not hugely educational either.

It’s a noble effort to serve some substance with its sparkle. But most of it’s likely to go over children’s heads like Santa’s sleigh over the rooftops. You suspect all they really wanted from The Snow Queen, like the show’s protagonist, was the magic of snow.