Writer: Philip Osment
Director: Jonathan McGrath
Reviewer: Jay Nuttall
“Enough screen time!” we are warned towards the beginning of Z Arts’ contemporary production of Hans Christian Anderson’s classic The Snow Queen. In an ever-evolving digital age writer Philip Osment and director Jonathan Mcrath have decided to reinterpret this allegorical tale and update it well and truly into the 21st century.
Kai and Gerda are from troubled backgrounds. Adopted by Aunty Jane, Gerda is the happiest of the pair as she flicks through a book as projected snow falls through a projected window. Kai, on the other hand, busy on his computer, creates a virtual escape world through programming and coding. Fostered into care because of an absent mother and troubled relationship with his father, he quickly falls into the spell of The Snow Queen hiding within his computer game. Gerda’s search into other worlds for her friend, frozen and bewitched, takes an unusual twist as she follows Kai, quite literally, into the digital world behind the computer screen.
As odd as this may sound it is a device that really works in 2015. With the advent of all-consuming worlds children create for themselves, such as Minecraft, the target audience easily has a leap of faith into this fiction. Osment has been extremely successful in adding further ultramodern layers of allegory into a fable already abundant with them. While keeping the traditional messages of positivity and the warmth of love overpowering the coldness of hate. An audience can easily read further portents of the dangers of cyber-space or a comment about climate change.
As a piece of theatre, it is brimming with ideas and ingenuity. Projection and puppetry are extensively used and interact with the live action to create jumbled up version of styles and expression. While commendably aiming high the production doesn’t quite fulfill the bar it has set itself. Occasionally the direction lacks pace and fluidity, especially between scenes, leaving the action a little flat. Perhaps a little more energised music from Semay Wu would help? Osment’s script is a little overwritten as it tries to fit everything in – especially The Snow Queen’s temptation of Kai.
Generally the performances are good. The cast of five play and puppeteer their way through the differing two-dimensional worlds, although strong, Cole could be accused of playing Gerda a little too childish rather than child like. As Kai, new graduate Gordon Millar has a petulant streak once he becomes bewitched. Denise Kennedy seems to have fun and brings a little light relief as Aunty Jane, a flatulent frog and a grumpy reindeer. Ebony Feare multi-rôles between a Jamaican gardener, a Princess and a Shamen-like Wise-Woman, and as The Snow Queen herself Bryony Thomas is quite terrifying. The age recommendation of 7+ is spot on as her physicality means that she particularly menacing as she lunges though the computer screen like a monster from an episode of Doctor Who or writhes on the floor like Gollum.
With brilliant digital design by Cubic Flowers that leaves you believing you have entered into the world of a computer game, The Snow Queen visually explores a wonderful juxtaposition between live and digital formats. For all its cleverness, however, this production lacks a little warmth and magic needed to believe we can melt the ice. A little bleak in places it is a Christmas show that seems to have quite a pertinent political agenda.
Runs until 13 December 2015 | Image: Contributed