Snow White – Oxford Playhouse

Director and Choreographer: Liv Lorent

Music: Murray Gold

Reviewer:Katy Roberts

The cautionary tale of Snow White is told anew in this new production from Newcastle contemporary dance company, balletLORENT. Reworked for the stage in a scenario written by former Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, this is not your traditional sugar-coated, happily-ever-after. Duffy and director Liv Lorent look to the original Brothers Grimm fairytale for their inspiration, where it is Snow White’s mother, not stepmother (as in later versions), who plots to have her child put to death.

This immediately lifts the story above and beyond the typical and somewhat tired ‘evil stepmother’ trope, and forces the audience to look more closely at the dangerous, distorting allure of youth and beauty, and what it can drive us to do, even to those we love most in the world.

Caroline Reece’s Queen begins the production a doting mother, who utterly adores the child she has longed for. But that pure love soon curdles into bitterness, resentment and malevolence when young Snow White grows up and catches the eye of the King of a neighbouring kingdom, with whom the Queen has fallen in love. Suddenly, the Queen begins to feel her age, and quickly descends into despair at the thought of no longer being “the fairest of them all”. What makes this interpretation of the Evil Queen character so interesting, however, is that it’s not just pure wickedness and spite that drives her, but the terror of getting older and (she believes), uglier – and ultimately, ending up alone.

Natalie Trewinnard makes for a winning Snow White, perfectly capturing her kind and compassionate nature, but also her naïveté as she falls for the Queen’s tricks not once, but twice – and, in an ending that is left ambiguous but with a pervading sense of dread, demonstrates that she truly is her mother’s daughter…

Liv Lorent’s choreography is beguiling from start to finish, performed by a company of strong, engaging performers, who use every inch of stage to bring their characters to life, be they the gruff miners who care for Snow White, or the adoring subjects of the King and Queen at the story’s beginning. Lorent’s use of a chorus of children as young Snow’s playmates – and later, woodland creatures – is utterly delightful, all vividly brought to life by Libby Everall’s wonderful costumes and underscored perfectly by Murray Gold’s (of Doctor Who fame) stunning soundtrack.

Pre-recorded with the Royal Northern Sinfonia, Gold’s music throughout is a true highlight of the show itself. At times an accompaniment, and at others, a driving force behind the action, it showcases the light and darkness within the show perfectly, using a mixture of contemporary and choral influences. Coupled with Phil Eddolls’ breathtaking set and Malcolm Rippeth’s lighting, together, the three create a truly atmospheric and eerie landscape upon which the story unfolds.

This Snow White may be a family show, with a simple, well-trodden narrative, but it never shies away from the more complex emotions on display, or sugar-coats the darkness of some of the earlier scenes: the killing of the baby deer by the Huntsman and the extraction of its heart to serve to the Queen is incredibly dark, particularly as the baby deer in question is played by one of the child ensemble. Duffy’s writing is lifted from page to stage by the atmospheric narration of Lindsay Duncan, capturing both the dark humour and chilling caution of the original fairytale. So, if you like your fairytales a little bit gritty, a little bit gory, with a whole lot of Grimm, then this is the perfect show for you. If you’re after a more Disney-esque retelling, however, you won’t find your happily-ever-after here.

Runs until 9 April 2016 and on tour | Image:Ian West

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