The Snow Queen – The Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

Reviewer - Dominic Corr

Writer: Hans Christian Anderson

Adaptation: Morna Young

Director: Cora Bissett

As the cold winds blow and chill to the bone, Edinburgh envelopes itself in a glittering robe of festive cheer once more as the Royal Lyceum revives its intended 2020 production from the frost-bitten earth for one stellar outing of Morna Young’s adaptation ofThe Snow Queen, directed by Cora Bissett.

The story beats have the familiarity expected by audiences who enjoy the Hans Christian Anderson classic, and even a few reflective shimmers of more contemporary storytelling elements (Disney’sFrozenstill has a vice-grip on younger audiences today). Young cleverly inserts a touching and well-weaved shift into a more environmental dynamic, gorgeously tied into a mythos. The initially subtle movement-orientated and rhythmic opening offers a spot of redemption for the Snow Queen, once called Beira, without stripping her role of agency, as the Queen of Winter is corrupted into the villain we see now, infecting and capturing humans who possess a ‘Seed of Spring’, thus ensuring her eternal reign.

One seed, however, seems to be within a young human from Edinburgh, their talents with a blossoming rose in the depths of winter a sign of their talents. Looking after this private and intimately shared garden, Gerda and Kei are no different than the other kids of Edinburgh, playful, imaginative, and brimming with the sparks of creativity and curiosity.

Featuring imaginative, if often revised and occasionally repetitive, original lyrics and composition from Finn Anderson and Young,The Snow Queenwears its heart on its sleeve, with plenty of delights and comedic elements to entertain and enthral families during this festive period. It captures plenty of spirited merriment with some cracking ensemble numbers which benefit from Yana Harris, Wendy Seager and the always wonderfully spirited Anthony Strachan as residents of the Auld Toun or the various outlandish creatures we encounter along the way.

A reflection of the theatre space itself, Emily James’ striking mirrored auditorium extends the reflective motif of the narrative as the gilded boxes and dress circle of the Lyceum extend onto the stage, creating a two-tiered dimension for the cast to manipulate and hide within. They additionally serve as effective set-dressings to enhance, but not distract from strong scenes with Naomi Stirrat’s sword-wielding Senga, or Richard Conlon’s Hamish the unicorn – a role which one can suspect Conlon has been honing for the show’s three-year hibernation.

Steadying the show’s more exuberant pacing, Rosie Graham’s Gerda is an excellent prominent role for the cast to rally around and interact with, performed with all the gusto and curiosity of a child but with clarity and controlled enthusiasm for the play. They make a perfect match with Sebastian Lim-Seet’s Kei, the pair’s sincerity and eagerness emanating into the audience, stoking all those warming notions before the introduction of the magic which cannot be controlled, a sharp, formidable, and icy Claire Dargo as the titular Snow Queen.

Regal, with a sternness that doesn’t restrict Dargo from stretching the occasional comedic muscle to offer a touch of the cruel to our antagonist, Jack Webb’s movement direction plays tremendously into their hands as the Queen owns every inch of the space they inhabit, with brief flickers of storytelling to show who she truly is beneath all that frosted armour. Also benefitting from Webb’s direction is Samuel Pashby as the Queen’s assistant Corbie, a corvid who slowly discovers the joys of friendships in a suitably energetic and earnest role.

The sliver of viciousness required for this tale, even in adaptation for a more comedic and younger audience, is dulled in moments, which is a royal shame. The sting of winter never really develops as the show pushes past the Edinburgh-centric moments and out into the world of fantasy. A peculiar and unexpected wrench, where the more mundane and familiar moments of the show possess a deeper intimacy in storytelling – while the lean into the expectant, even longed-for, fairy-tale moments feel more detached and sequential than important.

After much planning and a delay from Covid,The Snow Queenhas yet to defrost, with some pacing issues taking a toll as we stretch into the final moments where the repetitive nature of the script becomes all too apparent. But there is a heaping of glittering magic to appreciate and take from Young’s adaptation – its lustre for entertainment and ridiculous fun is unchallengeable as Bisset’s direction ensures that enjoyment for all audiences is keenly placed at the forefront. Not quite as sharp as first appearances suggest, this locally-flavoured icy treat emanates enough charm and glee to secure jubilant delight and many excited hearts brimming with fantastical joy.

Runs until 31 December 2023 | Image: Jessica Shurte

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