Music: Howard Blake
Director: Bill Alexander
Reviewer: Andrea Allen
Adults escorting little ones to the Opera House hoping for the magic of Raymond Briggs’ book and the festive charm of Dianne Jackson’s 1982 film adaptation may, unfortunately, be disappointed by Birmingham Repertory Theatre’s production of The Snowman. In Director Bill Alexander’s lengthy, bloated production, there’s a strong chance you’ll spend the majority of the time wondering what to have for tea rather than reminiscing in childhood nostalgia.
Given Briggs’ own claim that his book was intended to be about death and loss with no design for it to become a festive favourite, it’s difficult to believe he’d be too impressed with Bill Alexander’s commercially gleaming touring product, if he gave a nod of consent, which he presumably did, you can assume he was probably looking the other way. Even the moving ending preserved by Dianne Jackson’s film adaptation is crushed by schmaltz as the boy turns away from his dissolved companion to stare beaming upwards into the falling snow and join in for a jig with all his snow pals who have marched back for several more dances before the curtain call.
This production shines only when it sticks to the original material, which appears to be the minority of the time. The overall feeling is that a treasured item of shared cultural nostalgia has been stretched, modified and inflated beyond recognition to become a commercially successful cash cow. Whilst perhaps the original hour-long version of the stage show in 1993 may not have felt stuffed and contorted, it’s current manifestation sadly can’t claim the same. The very notion of it being a fantastical dreamscape in a child’s mind is broken by a 15-minute interval while the fact that the boy is often escorted offstage or at least scuttled off to the back does little to foster the impression that these are the magical conjurings a child’s sleeping mind.
The programme proudly boasts the addition of multiple characters, including an ice princess who bizarrely serves as a love interest for the Snowman, and Jack Frost who attempts to steal the Princess away before being oddly subdued with a group dance and befriending everyone before jarringly being ejected by Santa without receiving a gift. A presumably East Asian snowman with rice picker’s hat, excessive karate kicking, bowing and a silk tunic introduced by stereotypical music is a cringey cherry on top for this technically and visually impressive, yet otherwise dull production. And the fact that the latter character seems to gain the biggest laugh is both a wake-up call to how flat this show truly is, and a depressing reflection on how little some racial perceptions seem to have progressed.
It’s an easy sell, so it’ll draw audiences for years to come, but if you want to preserve Briggs’ magic, do yourself a favour and stick to the film or the book.
Runs until 12 November 2017 | Image: