Book: Ciaran McConville, based on the story by Hans Christian Andersen
Music and Lyrics: Eamonn O’Dwyer
Director: Ciaran McConville
Reviewer: Scott Matthewman
Hans Christian Andersen’s dark fairy tale has undergone a resurgence in popularity of late. That can probably be ascribed to its status as the inspiration for the Disney animated movie Frozen, even though the finished movie bore little resemblance to the original story.
That adaptation receives the barest of nods in Ciaran McConville’s more faithful version, with the clunkiest of mentions to ‘Let It Go’. While McConville takes his own liberties with Andersen’s story, the source material is at least recognisable, as the heroine, Gerda struggles to free her friend and neighbour Kai from the Snow Queen’s corrupting influence.
But this is no straight retelling: instead, the story is told in flashback as a warning from history to the polar village of Evergreen, a community of elves who pack Father Christmas’s sleigh every year and who were once attacked by the Snow Queen.
Parisa Shahmir’s Gerda is an orphan who, on turning eighteen, discovers she has magical abilities. This puts her at odds with Helena Blackman’s Snow Queen, worried about a prophecy about a child of magic that could put paid to her rule. As a means of flushing out the threat, the Queen abducts Gerda’s friend and neighbour, Jack Wolfe’s ebullient Kai, who becomes callous and frozen-hearted after being infected by a sliver of glass from the Queen’s magic mirror.
The expanded story provides ample opportunity to showcase the skills of the play’s five-strong core cast. Wolfe and Shahmir are both delightfully endearing, backed up excellently by Davina Moon as Gerda’s foster mother Freya, and Roger May as Kai’s crackpot inventor father.
Blackman, meanwhile, while more accustomed to playing heroine roles, revels in the chance to exert her villainous muscles, allowing her Queen to cast a demonic shadow over proceedings throughout, even with only a few onstage appearances.
The rest of the expansive cast is comprised of two separate youth teams, populating villages, pirate ships and the Queen’s ice palace with an array of well-rounded characters. Said characters include Bancu, a delightfully articulated puppet reindeer brought to life by a performance by Francis Redfern (in a role alternating with Anna Pryce) that is one of the show’s highlights.
Rounding out the show are Eamonn O’Dwyer’s original songs, which articulate the story’s key moments well, and David Farley’s set design, whose secrets allow for a simple but effective effect as the Queen freezes her enemies.
McConville’s expanded story succeeds in taking Hans Christian Andersen’s tale and, while remaining relatively faithful to the original, expanding it into a full-scale Christmas fable that ranks with the best original shows of the season. Its message of the power of love to triumph over coldness will melt the iciest of hearts.
Continues until 5 January 2020 | Image: Contributed