Lyrics and Music: Howard Blake
Choreographer: Robert North
Director: Bill Alexander
It’s heading for Christmas time, and the Peacock Theatre is staging their wildly popular Christmas show, The Snowman, to a new audience of pre-school children, parents and grandparents. Much of it retains the magic of the animated version, first shown over 40 years ago. There is the sweetness of the unnamed boy’s relationship with the Snowman – a creature that the boy appears to create himself after a night’s snowfall – and their adventures in the wintry skies.
Raymond Briggs’ original storybook published in 1978 was of course wordless. The 1982 animation added many quirky details including the motorbike ride undertaken by the pair and the memorable sequence as they fly on a frosty night over the South Downs and Brighton Pavilion, seeing whales as they approach the North Pole where they visit Santa.
Pride of place, of course, goes to Howard Blake’s gorgeous song, Walking in the Air. In 2021 Blake told the Financial Times that it had felt as though the idea for the song ‘came from God.’ The staged version continues to use the story and lyrics by Blake, with scenario by Blake and Bill Alexander and choreography by Robert North. It now includes revisions introduced at the turn of the century, in particular, the new characters, the Ice Princess and Jack Frost.
The first half is delightful as we follow the adventures of the young lad waking up to snow and his building of the eponymous Snowman. For those of us familiar with the animation, the disappointment later on is that we don’t see the Sussex coast from on high as Snowman and boy take flight, nor do we see the Northern Lights.
The second half, to be honest, suffers from much the same problem Christopher Marlowe evidently had when writing Dr Faustus: you’ve got a great beginning and ending, but how do you pad out the middle? In The Snowman, the pace definitely slackens in the second half, when, up at the North Pole, we are treated to endless dances by other Snowmen – Cowboy Snowman, Ninja Snowman etc – plus some comic penguins and cute prancing reindeer. A child in the audience anxiously asked her father if there’d be a baddie and was confidently reassured there wouldn’t be. But in fact, we now get the sinister silhouette of Jack Frost and the slightly worrying sexual politics of the gallant Snowman rescuing the Ice Princess from his clutches, and dancing amorously with her. It’s a sequence which necessitates losing the child hero for long stretches of time. It also makes for a challenging running time of nearly 110 minutes.
The music, under the direction of Costas Fotopoulos, is great. Notwithstanding the length, the show is an evergreen favourite.
Runs until 30 December 2023