Theatre N16 11 – 22 December, Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Tatty Hennessy’s adaptation of The Snow Queen is a magical family show, relying on wonderful story telling and quiet moments of wonder rather than in your face pantomime shenanigans.
Greta’s (Jessica Arden) brother Kay (James Tobin) has changed, they are arguing all the time, and so are their parents. Greta stays in the attic, full of familiar things where she feels safe, until a stuffed crow begins to speak to her. He tells her about the Snow Queen, who steals children and replaces them with nasty copies. Greta and the crow set off to find the Snow Queen’s castle and rescue Kay.
The attic set is simple, cardboard boxes contain story props, and dust sheet covered furniture is used to create a plane, sleigh and even a polar bear. Jessica Strawson narrates the tale, describing what Greta sees with perfectly targeted language – when you tell a child that the sky “looked like the stars were having a disco”, that will instantly spark their imagination. The show took me back to my childhood, having the feel of the best Jackanory episodes – all that was missing was Bernard Cribbins. Trusting a young audience to stay with a story told simply, without many bells and whistles, is a brave thing – especially during panto season – but Hennessy’s writing is pitched perfectly, delivering its message without being patronising.
The cast do a fine job. Arden keeps Greta childlike without being annoying, and her interactions with Crow are authentic playground language and emotion. Tobin handles the Crow puppet brilliantly, delivering way more bird jokes than the world needs and managing to convey emotion with just a twitch of Crow’s head. I never thought I could feel affection for a puppet that resembles a pygmy Skeksis, but that’s the magic of this show. Strawson is an excellent narrator, never talking down to the audience, and injecting a tone of wonder in her voice at just the right moments. She also plays the characters Greta meets on her quest, showcasing her range of accents.
Tatty Hennessy has streamlined the original story, and focuses on the message that changes in life can be scary, but we must take the risk and move forward to find happiness. This is something the children will have heard in many school assemblies, but never presented as imaginatively as this.
The Snow Queen is one of the best children’s shows I’ve seen – intelligent, imaginative and spellbinding. Take your children to see this. Or just go and treat your inner child.