The Snow Queen is ‘the cleverest children’s play I’ve seen in decades’
- Credit: Claire Haigh
Thomas aged six said this play made him feel scared and excited at the same time. He was on the edge of his seat for most of it and, like the adults, thought parts were hilarious.
The Snow Queen has a most versatile cast of six actor-musicians who play multiple roles and also sing. It is the cleverest children’s play I have seen in decades.
Staying true to the original fairy tale by Danish author, Hans Christian Andersen, it doesn’t shy away from the grim aspects of the story but it is laced with humour and the characterisation is inspired.
The show opens with a flourish. Narrator Abayomi Oniyide gives a prologue telling us the story of the mirror which shattered, the pieces going into people’s eyes and hardening their hearts.
The cast appear on a giant sleigh playing a range of instruments including accordion, double bass, castanets and ukulele. As the play develops, we also hear flute, saxophone and drum.
We then see the two young friends Kai (an accomplished Joey Hickman who also composed some of the music) and Gerda (Natisha Williams in a luminescent professional debut).
Kai’s absent minded grandma (the chameleon that is Stefanie Mueller) tells them the story of the ice cold Snow Queen.
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Somehow, a piece of the enchanted mirror enters Kai’s eye and he abruptly ends his friendship with Gerda before he is kidnapped from the market square in Copenhagen by the Snow Queen. She will take him to the North Pole.
A heart-broken but determined Gerda sets out to find her friend and bring him home.
On her journey, we see the other actors play music, sing and become very different people. Meanwhile, the sleigh, the one piece of kit that is the set, also morphs into various items and buildings.
On her way, Gerda meets a group of crows (in which the cast excels itself with facial expressions) managing somehow to speak in crow, amusingly calling Kai, Kai at appropriate moments.
She must also talk a gang of hungry robbers out of eating her for dinner (another chance for the cast to show its range – some of them go a bit Essex).
There is as well the Finish lady in her sauna (Stefanie Mueller speaking Finish) who manages to make herself understood nonetheless.
There are stand-out performances too from other encounters: Samantha Sutherland as the Robber Queen and the Flower Witch (an old lady who tries to imprison Gerda in a floral cottage – death by hydrangea) and Alex Murdoch both as a crow and a precocious baby who grows up instantly to become the Robber Princess.
There is no specific credit in the programme for the highly entertaining script, perhaps the company worked on it together.
Story development is by Rina Vergano. Slickly directed by Alex Byrne, the show is presented jointly by NIE (New International Encounter) Theatre, Cambridge Junction and Tobacco Factory Theatres.
It is superbly crafted piece of theatre which will impress adults and delight children.
The Snow Queen is at Cambridge Junction until Monday, January 3. Recommended for people five years old and upwards.