Writer: Raymond Briggs
Music and lyrics: Howard Blake
Director: Bill Alexander
Reviewer: James Garrington
It is over thirty years since The Snowman first appeared on our screens as an animation, on Boxing Day in 1982. Since then, it has remained a popular family treat for Christmas, not only as the original book and animation, but also the very popular stage version which was first produced at the REP in 1993 and since then it has become regular fare both in Birmingham and in London, and has been performed round the world.
At its heart, this is a story of friendship that appeals to all generations. The production has a touching and heart-warming naivety and simplicity that is very evocative of childhood; it brings back memories of excitement at the first snowfall of winter, of playing in the snow, of building a snowman. For some it will recall the feeling of reading the book, or sitting with their own children watching the animated film. In creating this version, the decision was made to reflect the essence of the book and the film, and to do it with no dialogue, which also helps to bring back the memories of winter days watching the film on television.
The story begins when the Boy wakes to find it has snowed, and decides to build a snowman. When the Snowman comes to life, the adventures begin with first a tour of the house, then a trip to the North Pole. Being performed with no dialogue could have made it quite difficult to follow for younger audience members, but that is far from the case. Essentially this is a ballet, and like a ballet, the gestures and performances are all overstated to assist the storytelling. It also contains some excellent dancing, choreographed by Robert North, which is in places somewhat reminiscent of The Nutcracker in the way the different characters present themselves.
The design by Ruari Murchison is simple and mostly effective, with a beautiful house set opening the play. It is a shame we don’t get to see it again later when the boy returns to his bedroom as that may help to close the circle, bringing us exactly back to where we started. The rooms in the house all work to reflect the simplicity of the piece, though they do tend to take a little while to set which makes the first half feel a little disjointed at times, and maybe a little technology would help in this regard. The lighting by Tim Mitchell also works well with the set, and adds to the chilly feel with some nice snow and ice effects. Murchison has also designed the costumes, and these are excellent; many of the characters wear full suits, including heads, so there is no skin visible at all, making sure that there is nothing to spoil the illusion for young audience members. Not only do the costumes look good but have also been designed to be easy to move in, and do not appear to constrain the dancing in any way. Running just 100 minutes, The Snowman has a strong ensemble who between them play a large number of different characters, and also swap rôles.
The highlight of the piece is, quite predictably, the flying and an audible gasp ran round the audience as the Boy and the Snowman took to the air to the strains of ‘Walking in the Air’. Aimed largely at a younger audience The Snowman contains many elements that will appeal to them; a snowball that grows as it is rolled across the stage from side to side, dancing fruit, some very cute-looking reindeer, and delightful penguins, all of which got an appreciative response from the children in the audience, who sat enthralled throughout.
A quite magical evening, this is a charming and delightful production which will appeal to young and old alike. If you have a young family, don’t miss this opportunity – the children will love it.
Picture: Alastair Muir |Runs until 18th January 2014