Adaptor: Howard Blake, Bill Alexander and Robert North
Director: Bill Alexander
Reviewer: Simon Topping
A glorious snow storm lighting effect hits the stage making the set beyond look as if it was within a magical snow globe and as the curtain raises, the familiar music of Howard Blake draws the audience into the story of a boy and the adventures he is about to have with his winter creation.
This is The Snowman; the slim picture book by Raymond Briggs and subsequent beloved film directed by Dianne Jackson and produced by John Coates are timeless Children’s classics, the latter being mainstay of Christmas television scheduling for thirty-five years.
The stage re-imagining is itself over two decades old and has undergone some serious revision to stand up to the animation, as creators, Birmingham Rep, don’t have the benefit of Brigg’s charmingly beautiful illustrations to wow onlookers and have had to extend a twenty-five minute story into a play of two halves running about ninety minutes.
The first half wisely and reassuringly sticks to the animations plot as we see the snowman being built, come to life and explore his new surroundings with his creator. Particularly delightful is a new calypso scene, with limbo dancing from fridge escaping, exuberant, exotic fruits as well as a fabulously bonkers motorbike journey with frightened and startled woodland creatures leaping out of the way of the incompetent riders to great cheers and laughter from the young ones watching. There is also a fantastically surreal light switch moment that would not be out of place in the repertoire of Reeves and Mortimer. As the act closes, the boy and the snowman take to the sky with accompaniment from Aled Jones’ Walking in the Air. It is a ssure-firecrowd pleaser and great end to the half.
As we get underway again we are introduced to the new characters of the Ice Queen and Jack Frost in nice set pieces that don’t quite have the charm of Act one. The highlight of this half of the play is, of course, the snowman’s ball. Each magical ice creation has their own personality and are marvellously performed by the cast. It is in these scenes of skilful and joyous group movement where the choreography truly shines.
During the snow dance, Father Christmas, played by Federico Casadei, tumbles onto stage part creaking old man, part bound some, resplendent toddler and delights the audience with his clowning. It would have been gratifying to see more of this buffoonery throughout the show.
Above all, resonating down the generations, Blake’s music is the unseen star of the show. The score, taken from the 1982 film with masterful and fitting additions, manages to evoke poignant and wistful memories of a childhood past for the older members of the audience as well as being uplifting, playful and joyful to all. It is a soundtrack that holds the test of time and has a special place in the hearts of anyone who has experienced its Christmassy magic as a child.
As the play reaches its inevitably sad conclusion and the excited cheers of the children around me accompany the show to an end, the words of another eminent children’s writer and illustrator, Dr Suess, feel apt; “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
Runs in Brighton until Sunday 28th January 2018 | Image: Tristram Kenton