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The Snow Queen

Creation Theatre bring Hans Christian Andersen's frost-spangled tale to life
BMW Group Plant, Oxford. 22nd November 2005 - 7th January 2006

November 30, 2005
This is a production of immense energy, good-humour and charm. Hans Christian Andersen it ain't, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, since the cruelty and terror at the heart of the Gloomy Dane's story could easily overwhelm what is essentially a children's Christmas treat. Creation Theatre, known and loved for their innovative and moving Shakespeare productions, have here gone to some effort to remove the sting from Andersen's storybook nasty. They have placed the characters and their predicaments at a safe distance from the audience by conscious artificiality, using a combination of touchingly crude and home-made looking costumes and wigs, and a relentlessly up-beat and cheery tone, thus ensuring that not even a sensitive 5 year old is going to feel threatened by the goblins or the Snow Queen or the Ice Warrior or indeed anything that happens to little Gerda or Kay.

Instead, they have gone for spectacle and fun, with lots of clever songs and leaping, tumbling, roller-blading, stilt-walking stage action. The players throw themselves into it heart and soul, bless them, but the venue is a tough one, built as part of a car factory with a low ceiling for a theatre, cluttered with huge ducts and pipes, which do nothing for the sound or the illusion. The space for the staging is immense, though the players tend to stick pretty close to the front because of the indifferent acoustics. The sets, created largely from clear plastic corrugated roofing sheets sprayed white, fall somewhat short of the promised winter wonderland, and though the two wheeled set pieces are mobile and versatile, they can't help but remind you of carnival floats in a small seaside town.

Some of it was brilliant. There was genuine energy and excitement generated by the opening number, when the cast stick their heads through slits in a big black curtain and sing at you, unsmiling and unpainted. The scene in which Gerda is kidnapped by the bandits was marvellous, very funny and charming, with a smashing song and superb choreography. I would pay to see that again. Mr and Mrs Crow were also a delight. But some of the other scenes were far too long for an 8 year old's attention span, and had some grown-ups sneaking looks at their watches. The weaknesses of the production were exposed in the climactic scene; as Gerda attacked Kay and her tears melted the ice in his heart, the carnival float set wobbled precariously, generating unintentional laughs from the audience and ruining the moment. The Snow Queen herself was disappointing, and exemplified the fish-or-fowl ambiguities of the production. Was she sinister or sexy, cruel or slutty, scary or funny? In common with the play, she was not sinister, cruel or scary, and perhaps it would have been better if she was. But having said that, my 8 year old daughter loved it and is telling all her friends to go.

December 14, 2005
I agree on most counts with the full review here, but would soften almost all of the criticisms made. True, the play is overlong, dragging too much for what is essentially a surreal children's panto - and the climax is rather more of a whimper than the bang the opening might lead you to expect. In general though there are just about enough laughs, great character acting and visual treats to keep the whole thing ticking over. The set is ingenious, and the occasional glimpse of flimsiness only made me more impressed with the actors' ability to work with it (perhaps initial difficulties have lessened with practice?). The main drawback was that in some musical numbers the actors' voices were buried by the overly-loud musical soundtrack. If you're from Creation theatre and you're reading this - could you just turn it down a bit?!
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