By Hans Christian Anderson
Adapted by: Laura Lindow
Director: Mark Calvert
Reviewer: Chris Collett
The old adage that ‘less is more’ is not a philosophy followed by creative team behind the Northern Stage Christmas show. Over the past five years, director Mark Calvert has thrown everything at the company’s seasonal offerings to produce ambitious all-singing, all dancing, epic productions, in which the performers barely pause for breath to fill cavernous sets.
The Snow Queen follows on in a similar vein. This reimagining of Han Christian Anderson’s classic fairy tale is played out on huge traverse stage, with the energetic ensemble in perpetual motion. When they aren’t taking on multiple parts, they’re rotating members of the band performing Jeremy Bradfield’s folky original live score. It’s like watching two hours of theatrical plate spinning. Certainly, none of them have got the chance to pop out for a crafty fag.
Laura Lindow’s adaptation is set in Stifle, a remote walled settlement, surrounded by uncharted wilderness. Governed by the buttoned-up Miss Orr (played for laughs by Paula Penman), its woolly-hatted residents live deliberately dull lives out of fear that expressing any kind of passion or desire would let in the wild that lurks beyond the walls.
The show centres on Gerda, a plucky child who becomes friends with new boy Kai who fails to understand Stifle’s oppressive rules and who lusts for adventure. When Kai vanishes, she goes on a quest to bring him back, where she confronts the mythical Snow Queen.
In common with his previous Christmas shows, Calvert’s direction is fast, furious and inventive. This makes for exhilarating viewing. However, with so much going on, there are occasional lapses of storytelling clarity. The first 10 minutes or so of both acts are a bit overstuffed. Fortunately, most potential confusion is largely offset by Lauren Waine’s charismatic Gerda whose presence holds the show together like a golden thread.
Also impressive is Elizabeth Carter as the Snow Queen. She is particularly chilling in her early guise as a ghostly barefooted child who arrives in Stifle with the snow. It’s just a shame her role isn’t a bigger.
Runs until 4th January 2020 | Image: Pamela Raith