Writer: Nick Lane
Director: Paul Robinson
The coronavirus has been responsible for many of Yorkshire’s theatre and opera companies finding imaginative ways to keep their activities going without breaking the law or endangering the public. The Stephen Joseph Theatre’s The Snow Queen is an example of double ingenuity. First Nick Lane transformed his initial adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen story into a solo performance, now sold out until the end of January; then, bearing in mind the number of regular audience members living in Tier 3 areas and unable to attend (your reviewer included), the theatre brought it online via the film of a live performance.
Nick Lane’s adaptations are always highly individual, quirky and Scarborough-related, with good songs by Simon Slater. So it is with The Snow Queen. We begin in the garden of the Sorceress of Summer, a combination of cosy Englishness (the shed is very important) and magic box of tricks, singing flowers and the like. She is the sister of the Snow Queen and sings of how she, Kai and Gerda have saved Christmas from the attack of Santa’s sworn enemy. The story begins when Kai is lured away by the Snow Queen and his best friend Gerda, a little girl who has never been further than Filey, goes to rescue him.
What follows is a tour de force from Polly Lister, directed with a sure touch and a taste for the unexpected by Paul Robinson. The story of the play is the story of Lister’s remarkable transformations and Lane’s inspired silliness. A bossily vague, boisterously energetic and very English sorceress, she presides over a garden where a magic dustbin and a French hedgehog at a miniature keyboard are part of Helen Coyston’s attractive and witty designs.
Initially Kai and Gerda are puppets – and very cute, too – but soon Lister takes on the characters, one at a time at first. Her many transformations don’t require much by way of costume change (sometimes just a coat or a bobble hat), but the character transformation, aided by a range of accents, works perfectly. Kai and Gerda emerge as convincingly human, the brave, yet timid, Gerda especially.
Lane is not one to forget the pantomime season and the Snow Queen is a pantomime villain to the core, even inspiring the odd “Oh, no, you’re not!” interlude, while Kai’s Gran has more than a touch of the Dame as she chats up a man in the audience.
On Gerda’s quest she falls in with a raven who caws most menacingly, but is really only interested in writing “pooems” (poems about poo); is accosted by a fierce Deadly Robber who turns out to be a harmless Scotsman who lacks the courage to rescue his sister from The Snow Queen; is assisted by a glum Brummie reindeer who resents the attention his brother Rudolph gets; and gets advice from a vacant-sounding Wise Woman online.
In the final confrontation between the Snow Queen, Kai and Gerda, identities get a bit blurred, but Polly Lister remains triumphantly on top of everything Nick Lane’s script throws at her, even changing character mid-sentence. With some neat effects and irreproachable Christmas sentiments, it’s ideal seasonal fare.
Available to watch HERE until 31st January 2021