Writer: Emma Reeves
Director: Wendy Harris
Reviewer: Jay Nuttall
What if a little girl, made of snow, miraculously came to life? With a jam-packed Christmas season at The Lowry, this is a new adaptation of a Russian folk tale you may never have heard of, often entitled The Little Daughter of the Snow. It is a curious narrative, which has at its core, as all fairy tales do, enormously complex themes. The art, as Tutti Frutti achieves, is to create a piece of work for children without losing the underlying ideas.
Performing in the studio space this piece is produced by Tutti Frutti and penned by celebrated writer Emma Reeves, whose impressive recent credits in writing for children include Hetty Feather in the West End as well as Tracey Beaker, The Dumping Ground and Eve on CBBC.
When a childless couple haslonged for their own child and finally given up hope, they build a child, a girl, out of snow one winter. Fashioned with a vibrant red coat, hat and gloves they wish for the family unit they have never had. The couple sing with a resigned air that “wishing won’t make it happen” but then complete the lyric with “until the day it can”. The infant spirit of the cold, who has the blizzards for a mother and the frost for a father, begins to feel burning warmth inside her for the first time as she embodies the red articles of clothing and becomes human. What follows is a struggle of parenthood, childhood, identity and, most of all, love.
Told by a cast of three, it takes a little while for the story to, pardoning the pun, warm up. Indeed, it is not until the Snow Child comes to life (around 15 minutes in) that it begins to engage. Playing the Mother and Father, Mark Pearce and Paula James have a difficult line to tread. Because of its folklore origins, the characters are not three-dimensional and, despite their intensely human yearning for offspring of their own. it is difficult to lend empathy. Similarly, Mei Mac as the Snow Child has an equally demanding task to allow us to care about her fate. Brattish in one moment and an intensely vulnerable child the next, she moves through the story like a snowflake in the wind.
A simple yet effective design choice by Kate Bunce is complemented by Wendy Harris’ trademark uncluttered direction which works well to create storytelling for very young eyes. James transforms from Mother to Fox and Pearce from Father to Bear with a fur throw. “She’s a fox” whispered one Grandma in front of me”. “I know” came the reply. Music by Oliver Birch punctuates the Snow Child’s winter but at times, a lack of an underscore left things feeling a little lifeless and the two actor musicians onstage much underused. As the season begins to slip and winter begins to lose its grip time is going to change things and the icy status quo will begin to melt. The question is whether this family or any family, can deal with change and the world moving on.
Although there are some lovely themes that are explored in this play there is a lack of narrative drive needed to propel the story forward. Despite becoming lost in the deep dark wood and being rescued by the fox, there isn’t enough jeopardy. The ‘hook’ usually present part way through a story in order to allow us to invest in the characters seemed absent. As a result, the production feels a little flat. Despite the best efforts of cast and creatives, it is essentially the lack of story that lets this tale down. That said (with credit to all at Tutti Frutti), it didn’t affect the concentration of the audience. The full auditorium was fully engaged throughout the whole hour.
This is an inventive production of a rarely heard fairy tale. It deals with a myriad of topics such as family, loneliness, rebellion, belonging, nature versus nature, time and what it is to be “normal”. All things you would never expect to see in a show aimed at 3+. But with Tutti Frutti lightness and imaginative theatre language it may just melt your heart a bit.
Runs until 3 January 2016 | Image: Brian Slater