Friday 28th September 2018 at York Theatre Royal.
Tutti Frutti Productions are offering up something quite unique in contemporary Children’s Theatre at the moment.
Mike Kenny’s adaptation of the Snow Queen takes to the stage as a lovely combination of a classic child-friendly tale of bouncy adventure, family and friendship and something quite dark and…hip? Yes indeed, hip!
The show carries recognisably modern characters and plenty of songs to accompany the story, but unlike the majority of Children’s shows out there, the songs are catchy like those on the radio and span an impressive range of genres from radio-tot type sounds to ballads, disco and even a brief nod towards rap! With music as such a heavy influence, the story engages well over the hour and skilfully maps the shifting tones in the story and the feelings of the characters too – at least three little ones were singing ‘Summereeer…winteeeeeer…every ye-e-ear’ as they left – and to be fair, I had a little hum to myself on the way back to the car too!
The story is an adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s story and in it, a Snow Queen (Joanne Sandi) casts a powerful influence over a young boy, Kai (Mitchel Wolfe) and whisks him away to a far away land. His friend Gerda (Hannah Victoria) sets out to find her bestie after he disappears following a tantrum – Gerda meets a fair few obstacles, talking greenery and baddies but manages to prevail.
Yet while this central story mirrors many like it, the story includes some brave brief glimpses of biting reality – a throwback to classic, darker fairytales which are so often streamlined and sanitised for modern audiences. In Kenny’s story, bereavement is the thing to send Kai off into a deep sadness which causes the tantrum and which in turn briefly steals the shine from his friendship with Gerda.
But of course friendship is stronger than hardship Kenny reminds us…nothing lasts for ever, including the sad times.
The real darkness lies in the production values, which use music (Ivan Scott) and lighting (Mike Redley) to underscore the sense of threat from the Snow Queen and even for a time, the arrival of the comical robbers. While these designs elevate the production from the usual mildly threatening villains of Children’s Theatre, the atmospheric, moody and foreboding music did have a few little ones around me clutching onto mummy and hopping onto knees, making me question the 3+ age advisory, which I’d probably push total least five considering how well played the darker aspects of the show are.
Perhaps another reason for the strong reactions from the children is the strength of the performances, which again rise above jazz-hands and larger than life acting, taking us into the story as a drama featuring music and some nice lively scenes chipped in.
Hannah Victoria’s Gerda goes through the mill; missing her friend, puzzled by the change in him, out all alone on an adventure and brought to the brink of giving up more than once. In all of this, Victoria’s performance (under the direction of Wendy Harris) plays that journey in earnest, not as the watered-down edition. Wolfe’s Kai is played with the same credibility often bypassed in Children’s Theatre, though he doesn’t quite play the bereavement to the full – obviously a very wise choice!
It’s a sweet friendship between them and we’re rooting for their reunion, as is grandma. Joanne Sandi does a great job of shifting between wise, loving grandma and the stony voiced Snow Queen with the imperious tone and an expressionless iciness. She also impresses in her narration of the tale in a warm, dexterous voice which matches the changing moods of the story perfectly.
Aside from the very contemporary take on music, costuming (Kate Bunce), dancing (Holly Irving) and the hip contemporary bestie greeting, Kenny’s adaptation also offers accurate views of our world. Gerda lives with grandma (also Sandi) and Kai lives with his single mum (played off stage).
In a welcome display of gender equality, the brave girl rescues the grateful boy – no defenceless maidens in towers here folks! Refreshing here too is the casting, which does far better than the irksome white-as-default-ethnicity, making this show a fantastic display of diversity in a genre which is so in need of it.
Of course kids should be seeing a range of families and folk in every story because that’s our world, and this show does precisely what others are yet to realise is vital.
This is ambitious theatre for young children which clearly seeks to go above and beyond the blanket-bounciness of Children’s Theatre; though possibly a little too dramatic and dark for the youngest members of the family, I think it does a great job in offering a taste of good quality storytelling with an introduction to some of the trappings of theatre aimed at bigger kids. Catch it if you can!
Snow Queen is a Tutti-Frutti and York Theatre Royal collaboration. It plays at York Theatre Royal’s Studio Theatre until October 13th 2018 and you can find tickets here.