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The Snow Queen
Theatre N16
12th December 2016


Publicity image for The Snow Queen

Photography © Andreas Lambis

As Christmas edges nearer and hats and scarves become wardrobe staples, it's time to watch a heartwarming winter tale. Luckily Tatty Hennessy's adaptation of The Snow Queen is just the ticket. With plenty of magic, good jokes and a bear dancing Gangnam Style, really, what more could you ask for?

Greta (Jessica Arden), a lively, happy, primary school-aged girl is dismayed when her older brother Kay (James Tobin) does some pretty mean things. After he cruelly dumps her favourite toy in some milk, a downcast Greta goes up to the attic to mope. But while she is there, she meets a talking crow (also Tobin) who suggests that the nasty Kay downstairs might not actually be her brother. The terrifying Snow Queen has a habit of taking children to her palace and replacing them with bad copies, you see. Naturally, this leads Greta and the crow to set out on an adventure to find the real Kay, all narrated by the superb Jessica Strawson.

Although part of Theatre N16's double Christmas bill, this show is very much a family affair which will delight the little people in the audience. Their second show, Christmas, is very much adults only. If you do have children (or are looking after any) this is the ideal production for you both. I had the delight (yes, honestly) of sitting behind a toddler and you could see just how absorbed she was. With every bang or 'scary' word, she would burrow into her mother, peeking out to follow the story. She was entranced the whole way through (though it might have been a magic spell I suppose). Having said that, there is also something for the grown-ups. If you like a bit of Christmas sparkle at this time of year, this is a very well executed and satisfying Christmas play. The loosely interwoven moral of the story, to look for the good in life as well as the bad, is a nice reminder for most of us (though that is not to discount that there are some people for whom life is, right now, pretty terrible - see the second show for that).

The small cast are all very entertaining. Wearing pyjamas throughout, Arden perfectly captures the mannerisms of an excitable young kid. Whilst her figure shows us that she is quite clearly an adult, you soon forget this as her facial expressions and body language are absolutely those of a child: kind-hearted, courageous and somewhat naïve. Tobin also does a good job as the talking crow, cracking out joke after joke mostly with a bird theme (kudos for coming up with so many). Although he is obviously beside the crow puppet and also plays Kay, you overlook this minor factual detail as the story pulls you in. However, Strawson has, perhaps, the toughest task. She not only narrates the story but also plays a host of characters that the pair meet along the way - an old lady, a travelling salesman, a bear guarding the palace and even the Snow Queen. She is definitely up to the job though and easily adapts to each character. She is also great at the comedy - the scene where Greta teaches the guard bear to dance is a particular amusing highlight.

Being the fringe, there isn't a budget for a fancy set design however directors Scott Ellis and Hennessy and tech manager/lighting designer Tom Burgess do a good job with what they have and the children in front of me seemed impressed. Piles of boxes set the attic scene and, helpfully, provide all the resources needed to make a flying machine for Greta. I think the adults in the audience can especially appreciate the reference to keeping things that should have been thrown away just in case they are needed - in Greta's case this means using a baby steering wheel toy in her crazy concoction. Once they are on their journey, fairy lights create snow and ice and shadows depict the Snow Queen. The latter works particularly well, with the shadows creating a mystical, ominous figure.

The children in the audience all seemed very happy with their choice of show, though it was surprising not to see more of them. This is a fantastic production that children will love and it would be a shame if more of them don't get the opportunity to see it. The adults also seemed to leave pretty contented, with the sort of warm fuzzy glow that only appears at Christmas. This was quickly shattered for those that stayed to see part two of the Christmas bill, but it was nice while it lasted.

The Snow Queen opened on 11th December and runs until 22nd December 2016 at Theatre N16.

Nearest tube station: Balham (Northern)

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