Review: The Snow Queen, Park Theatre
PUBLISHED: 10:40 09 December 2019 | UPDATED: 10:40 09 December 2019
Eerie magic and slapstick fun jostle, mostly successfully, in an inventive retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s wintry fairytale
The Park Theatre's production of the Snow Queen honours the mysticism of Hans Christian Andersen's wondrous tale but throws in some boisterous panto elements to please the Christmas crowd.
As directed by Abigail Anderson, it's an eerie and impressively atmospheric affair. But Charles Way's ambitious script packs in too many ingredients: the dark drama jostles for attention with surreal riffs heavily indebted to Alice in Wonderland and there's much slapstick comedy to boot.
The set designed by Gregor Donnelly is ingenious. Planks of wood patched together above and below a balustrade evoke key scenes: the neighbouring rooftops of Cei and Gerda's childhood homes or the mountains where Cei is spirited away by the Snow Queen and forced to reassemble her magic mirror.
The bewitching and soul-freezing that follow are what most remember about the tale [reinforced by the Frozen movie franchise] and the original quest story moving through all four seasons is forgotten.
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Here, much stage time - a tad too much in truth - is given over to Gerda's search for Cei - who she refuses to believe is dead - and her encounters with fairytale characters. Spring brings a sorceress in a magical rose garden; Summer has a betrothed prince and princess living in a castle [the most obtuse of the seasonal dramatizations]; and in a forest in Autumn warring robbers have imprisoned a benign talking reindeer.
The ensemble is excellent and manages to smooth over some jerky gear-changes with sharp physical comedy: sledging at top speed and in slow motion; children singing like angels then speed-rapping and rocking.
Many children in the audience were bouncing and bopping along to the rap-rock medley. There are standout performances from Paula James as both narcoleptic Snowdrop and posh Princess Frederica while Justin Brett as a camp Daffodil is charming. Frances Marshall as the Queen is suitably scary. The songs aren't especially memorable, the more abstract ones failing to exert any eerie hold.
But as the play progresses, the wilder moments are more effectively fused with the story's glacial heart. Magic and fun win the day.