The Snow Queen, Christmas 2014 (review)

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What do you get if you cross a Victorian children’s story with Narnia, ‘Frozen’, Hogwarts, feminist ideology and Christmas? You get ‘The Snow Queen’, a glorious updating of Hans Christian Andersen especially written for the New Venture Theatre by Andrew Allen. Following the seriousness of Barbarians and the witty froth of Hay Fever earlier in 2014, ‘The Snow queen’ offered something completely different. It was the first production for young people for a considerable time and it employed perhaps the largest cast ever seen on a NVT stage. Twenty one actors, actresses, bird and reindeer only just accommodated themselves in the Theatre Upstairs but they had enormous fun with a musical play that transcended most of the usual categories and earned the NVT manifesto of ‘community theatre’.

Was it just for young people? Two nine year olds in our row loved every minute, and laughed and giggled all the way through. They especially liked the crow and the reindeer and they all jumped with pleasure when violent bangs scattered snow everywhere. They told me it was better than anything on TV. They would have loved to have been on stage.

But few children would have been old enough to understand Allen’s hilarious EasyJet instructions on the riverboat, or the chavvy, stroppy girl-power burglars. Neither might most nine year-olds appreciate an ornithological ‘caw caw’ from the crow as synonymous with ‘cor’ from ‘cor blimey’ representing an extreme enthusiasm for practically everything. Simple philosophy was demonstrated by the Flowers who believed most problems could be buried in the earth and that plants needed tending … towards the positive. Puns flew as thick and fast as the snowflakes: I particularly enjoyed the ‘fly-lingual’ crow and an enormous ‘ass..piration’.

Old and young found the modern geeky Princess funny in her boots, stripey leggings and metal chainwork. Obviously, she had the fluffy dress somewhere and she married the handsome prince, but she wore the trousers – literally.

It’s a story written by a bloke but really for girls, about girls. Men don’t get much of a look in: they are a reindeer, a crow, a susceptible boy or a soppy prince. There isn’t a hero among them. Even the two rather nervously inept soldiers are girls. Chelsea Newton Mountney played Gerda with a beguiling mixture of savvy innocence and naive courage. For some reason known only to her, she protects her childhood playmate Kai who is determined on self-destruction with the Snow Queen. Matthew Swan made a brave stab at being really stupid, but he couldn’t help being a charming young actor in the CS Lewis ‘Edmund’ role with Narnia’s White Witch. I was captivated by the sinus allergies (to snow, mostly) and permanent sneezing of the Queen’s courtier Kirrily Long, a genuine comedy talent and necessary foil to the icy horror of Shonali Rodrigues. It was a relief when Gerda’s love melts the Snow Queen: the darkest Victorian tales needed a moral and here it was – Love Conquers All. Trolls Annique Tate-Doe, Lisa Feldman and Emma Ruggins were comedically agile, sharing the palm for feisty girl power with robbers Milly Roberts, Lisa Caira and Alanna Manwaring. The hierarchy of Spring and Summer were scene stealers, although Samantha French was especially, transatlantically, hilarious.

Mark Green made a very fine crow (Andersen uses a Raven) with some picturesque wing flapping and a great deal of very charming enthusiasm. Cor! Jeff Moody’s Reindeer was a sorrowful creature under the frozen thumb of the Snow Queen, his mobile face expressing complete gloom to great comical effect.

The list of production team in The Snow Queen programme is almost as long as the cast, but particular mention must be made of writer/director Andrew Allen who wrote the script and nearly all the songs. Musical direction was by Alanna Manwaring and Lisa Caira, and set design by Mark Green and Isabel Aidalbery.

Rod Lewis passionately believes in the value of amateur theatre as a community enterprise. Nothing could validate his conviction better than this production of ‘The Snow Queen’ with its broad appeal and enormous cast. Everyone involved must have had a terrific time, on and off stage. And the audience young and old went home melted and happy with a song in their hearts! Cor!

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