Writers: Natasha Holmes, Eleanor Hooper
Director: Natasha Holmes
Designers &Makers: Eleanor Hooper, Peter Gunson
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
Tell Tale Hearts’ production of Snow White at the Lawrence Batley Theatre certainly doesn’t lack ambition or imagination, but it is debatable how far the different elements fit together to make an ideal Christmas entertainment.
The most striking feature is the collaboration with Pif-Paf, famed for outdoor installation theatre and now venturing indoors for the first time. So an initially bare stage is gradually filled with mainly metal structures which are assembled before our eyes and actually work. “Snow White being rescued from a mine shaft” is a particularly skilful – and entertaining – piece of practical physical theatre.
Natasha Holmes and Eleanor Hooper’s re-working of the story of Snow White is a promising idea – or, rather, several promising ideas. The wicked stepmother is a diva, Mystique, whose career is set to decline as her stepdaughter’s rises. The seven dwarfs are transformed into a brass band of unemployed miners, the Coalface Crocodiles – or is it a jazz band? Publicity is ambiguous on that point, as is the music they make, though pleasant enough. The miners get involved when Snow White, fleeing from Mystique’s henchman, ends up in a mine shaft.
There are many attractive scenes, the puppet sequence, for instance, where Snow White dreams of her missing father or the scene where she is taken in by the miners, which combines sweetness and humanity with a nice use of the set structure. However, in the first half in particular, the pace frequently drops, partly through time spent assembling or dismantling structures.
Almost too much is demanded of the actors who have to combine physical theatre and instrumental skills with conventional acting and it is sometimes the last-named that suffers. The individual characters and story, not helped by a bitty script, come over less strongly than one would wish.
Snow White is very much a collaborative show with multi-tasking the order of the day. Though specific writers and director are named, it is “created with the company”. Eleanor Hooper, co-director of Pif-Paf, displays astonishing versatility: writer, designer, maker, puppeteer, wicked stepmother and clarinettist! She is not the most convincingly evil villain ever, but certainly one of the more gymnastic – and belts out her solos with gusto.
Francesca Dunford’s Snow White is suitably appealing and again excels at the physical circus-style demands of the part. Peter Gunson, the other co-director of Pif-Paf, shares the design and making of the set with Hooper, makes his entry descending by rope playing a tuba and plays Mr Couteau, Mystique’s lugubrious and heavily accented henchman.
The cast is completed by James McLean as the most organised and purposeful of the band, Conrad Bird as the most silent and mysterious, and Sophie Postlethwaite as the one with the most natural sense of fun.
Perhaps the collaboration between Tell Tale Hearts and Pif-Paf tries to do too much, but it will certainly be interesting to see any future combination of their talents – or, maybe, a sharpened up version of Snow White would have real impact.
Runs until 27 December 2015 | Image: Gavin Joynt Photography