Music and Lyrics: Howard Blake
Choreographer: Robert North
Director: Bill Alexander
Reviewer: Selwyn Knight
2018, was positively awash with anniversaries relating to The Snowman: Raymond Briggs’ book was first published in 1978, 40 years ago, and Birmingham REP’s first stage production inspired by the book and animated film of 1982, was first seen in 1993, 25 years ago. And, as the snowman’s motorcycle reminds us, Howard Blake, who scored the film and this production, celebrated his 80thbirthday. So a significant time to see this iconic production and ask whether a story with no real words and communicated almost entirely through dance can really hold the attention of children brought up in this sophisticated age of electronic entertainment.
And the answer is an emphatic, ‘Yes!’
It’s a simple fantasy as the young boy builds a snowman that miraculously comes to life. They play as he shows the snowman around his home, introducing him to the cat and some dancing fruit in the process, as well as learning to ride a motorcycle. Then the snowman returns the favour as they fly to the north pole for games and dances with other snowmen, Father Christmas, the Ice Princess and Jack Frost … Oh! And some waddling penguins. After all that excitement, they return only for a thaw in which snowman melts away.
What is most striking about the production is its childlike charm and the sense of wonder and joy it brings. The characters (and their dancing styles) are highly stylised and instantly recognisable. There’s plenty of physical humour. It really has it all – and there’s Aled Jones singing Walking in the Air – it doesn’t get much better than that. And the children, at least at this performance, are enthralled, with spontaneous applause when the snowman and the boy first fly and joyous laughter at the penguins’ awkward gait. It’s truly a pleasure to witness an audience so spellbound by something so outwardly simple.
Of course, appearances deceive and the cast, especially in the case of the snowman (Robin Kent) and the boy (Lewis Chan) who are rarely offstage and rarely still when onstage, work exceptionally hard to make the whole flow and appear effortless while simultaneously maintaining that childlike feel. Kent’s training in ballet really shines through the baggy costume as his movements, in turns graceful and ponderous, are a delight. Tomoyo Tanimoto Jequier takes on the ballerina in the music box and the Ice Princess, displaying excellent technique and bringing the characters life, especially when taking on Jack Frost (Benjamin Harrold), whose movements embody cunning and guile.
Ruari Murchison’s set includes some nice visual jokes when the boy is exploring the house although the flow of the whole is occasionally interrupted for scene changes. Nevertheless, choreography from Robert North and slick direction from Bill Alexander reduce the impact of such blackouts and focus our attention effectively on the action.
It’s not hard to see why this stage production of The Snowman is so popular: it’s a truly enchanting evening out for all the family and a surefire cure for cold and, dare I say, snowy winter days.
Runs Until 26 January 2019 | Image: Tristram Kenton