Saturday, 10 December 2016

Review: The Snow Queen at Bristol Old Vic

It's always a challenge to find the story that'll make a Christmas play that isn't a panto or done to death already. The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson might seem like a good candidate in that it's pretty wintery, with lots of opportunities for ice and Christmassyness and a bit of central-European scariness all wrapped up in a nice, heartwarming message. In other respects it isn't, as the story is long and rambling and thus, quite difficult to adapt to stage.

This production met some of these challenges magnificently, while falling foul of others. It's a lavish, technically adapt production which wows with effects and fantastic stage design. The Snow Queen herself is a puppet, and a rather scary one. There's goblins and turtles and reindeer and talking parrots and various sub-stories of the main adventure, all created in neat little scenarios, which in their own right are funny and engaging. The costumes are great, the music brilliant, the design amazing.

Photo (c) Mark Douet/BOV

And yet, even as an adult, there's so many twists and turns it's hard to keep up with the story. This wasn't helped by the theatre makers adding another layer, in which the lead male character is clearly having gender issues and nobody in the village understands him, because y'know, they're peasants. The central relationship between the boy and girl characters is redrawn as 'friendship' in which they 'love each other as they are' blah blah. Because having a boy and a girl whose love overcomes evil in a happy ending is obviously too heteronormative these days. There was also a cringy scene in which the supporting characters recap what the heroine learned as a person on her journey, as if there's some sort of Oftsed review due and they're afraid she might not have met her key learning outcomes. It was so Peak Guardian, I can't even.

Anyway, apart from that there were lots of things to enjoy. What there wasn't, in my opinion, was enough snow. I wanted a bit more peril, a bit more cold, a bit more ice and sparkling frostiness, a bit more Northern European menace. The best bits were with the actual Snow Queen, who was genuinely scary. I know I'm old now but when I was a kid, being forced to consider a bleak wasteland of Scandinavian hopelessness was thought to be good for your education. Meh. All in all, could have done with a bit more Scandi-noir, a bit less Generation Snowflake. Also: MOAR CHRISTMAS.

(Can I get a job for the Daily Mail, yet?)

Verdict
Puppets: yay!
Politics: yikes.
 

1 comment:

  1. Mostly agree with this review, but in the original story they were children, so it was a pure friendship there as well. It was a shall we say interesting choice to throw gender issues into a family play I'll grant you, but it was done in a way that will go straight over kids heads so no possibly awkward conversations are needed after the play.

    Also the bit at the end where the sorcerer and sorceress tell her why they can't help her as she's already got everything she needs to save Kai, where they recount what she's learnt on her adventure, is straight from the story.

    My main criticism is the woodland creatures revolt thing. My kid whispered into my ear at the start of the second act "Where are they and what are they doing?" and I struggled for a good answer for her seeing as I wasn't 100% sure myself. The play then just abandoned this idea completely leaving it as a loose end, so I didn't understand what the point of that part was at all.

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