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Posted on Sat 23 Nov 2019
The Snow Queen is a tale of old, first penned by none other than the fairytale master himself Hans Christian Anderson. Having inspired films such as Frozen and characters like the evil White Witch in C. S Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, a new version of The Snow Queen skated its way into Birmingham this month - and it has been produced by the city’s very own Old Rep.
This delightful in-house production is unique to Birmingham in many ways: this show is a Christmas musical spectacular complete with original score; The Snow Queen incorporates British Sign Language into its choreography for a more inclusive production; and, the creative team behind it is predominantly made up of local talent.
From the first glance The Snow Queen dazzles. Set and Costume Designer Amy Carroll is a local woman, whose set for this production creates a winter wonderland that can be both eerie and magical. This is complemented by a mixture of contemporary clothing and more traditional Danish dress.
The Old Rep's version of The Snow Queen fills in a few gaps, explaining The Snow Queen's motivation for capturing Kai and frequently attempting to foil Gerda's mission to rescue her best friend. On their 13th birthday, every child becomes an adult and in that moment they're changed forever - and not for the better.
A shard of icy glass enters their eyes, causing them to be inclined to prejudice against those different to themselves. These tiny pieces were inadvertently created by The Snow Queen when she underwent her transformation from a loving, open princess to a Queen with a frozen heart. Jilted at the altar for being different and wanting everyone else to feel her subsequent pain and anger, The Snow Queen tries to sustain her spell by preventing Kai - the boy who would refuse to change - from coming of age with the help of her band of goblins.
Writer Toby Hulse made swift work of Hans Christian Anderson's (dare I say it) patchy original narrative, transforming The Snow Queen into a coherent tale of young people's battle against prejudice. While I found the story took a little while to get going - the birthday party scene was far too long - by the interval I was itching to know how Gerda and her new friend Crow would fair on their journey to rescue Kai from The Palace of Mirrors and Ice.
The Snow Queen frequently left me tittering away in my seat, while children around me giggled uncontrollably and cried out to interact with the characters. The collaboration between Composer and Musical Director Steve Allan Jones and writer Hurst certainly injected plenty of humour and immense heart into the production. Jones' original score also brought a pop-rock vibe to musical theatre, particularly in its use of a more electronic sound.
A highlight of the show was Hader's song Not a Goblin, which was steeped with humour and irony as it was pretty obvious his Swedish lumberjack disguise just wasn't cutting it. I found the exaggerated Swedish accent and stereotypes (such as the names Olaf and Bjorn) particularly amusing. The production was definitely playing with the Scandinavian theme also adopted by Disney when creating Frozen - and did so with great effect.
Another stand-out feature of the production was the retro computer game style animation that The Snow Queen saw through her magic mirror when checking on Gerda's progress. Whoever had the idea (and then subsequently executed said vision) for those neat little sections of projection work is a genius.
The Snow Queen herself was an absolute badass adorned with a motorbike, silver corset and white braids. Letitia Hector had the voice and stage presence to match, stamping The Snow Queen's authority from the get go. Hector did a wonderful job as the formidable, yet misunderstood, villain and also possessed a wonderful tone to her singing voice. This, however, sometimes lacked diction in the first half and was overpowered somewhat by the music. Perhaps this was tweaked by the tech team during the interval, as the balance was much improved in the second act.
Another performer remaining in one role throughout the show was Christina Harris, who starred as Gerda. Harris made a perfect lead with her confidence, poise and aptitude as a performer. She also has the most beautiful voice, particularly in its range and clarity.
The remaining three professionals did an incredible job of bringing the rest of the characters to life. Tom Sturgess' adaptability and enthusiasm shone through, and his ability to play three such different characters (Kai/Crow/Gamle) in one show is a testament to his talent. Sturgess is certainly one to watch.
Charlie Keable was a huge comic asset to The Snow Queen as Hader and Robber Queen. I felt Hader held the different threads of the storyline together, making Keable’s principle role a crucial one - and one that he executed to perfection. Alexandra Daszweski excelled as minor characters Karen, Mormor and Ida, especially in her voice work.
Steve Elias’ choreography made for dynamic storytelling to add to the book and score, and the students from Birmingham Ormiston Academy who made up the ensemble performed their moves with zeal and vigour.
While many children's productions can feel patronising for kids, let alone adults, The Snow Queen has universal appeal. This is a magical, quirky, feelgood show for the whole family this Christmas.
The Snow Queen runs at The Old Rep, Birmingham until Monday 30 December.
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