Originally published in 1844 by Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen, The Snow Queen is ultimately a tale of good versus evil. It’s traditionally told in seven parts, but in this production directed by Scott Ellis and Tatty Hennessy we follow Greta and her friend the Crow as they embark on a journey to rescue her brother Kay from the evil Snow Queen and discover things about themselves and one another along the way. But Greta and the Crow soon learn that things aren’t always as black and white as they may seem.
In a little room above a pub in Balham, the cast and crew manage to conjure up the magic of Andersen’s folk tales with little to no props and with very limited space. Without a magnificent set or elaborate costumes it is the actors who fill in the gaps. James Tobin operates the puppet Crow with relentless enthusiasm and a funny East End accent, and there is a surplus of bird related puns. Jessica Arden is curious and endearing as young Greta, filled with an optimism that children so often possess. Jessica Strawson is enchanting and consuming as the narrator, her clear and hushed tone drawing the audience in. A play made for children, it’s packed with pop references – even shoe-horning in the trendy ‘mannequin challenge’ and girl band Little Mix’s latest single – that do nothing for the plot, but it is fun and the kids in the row beside me seemed to enjoy it.
Despite the quirky references, this version of The Snow Queen adapted by Tatty Hennessy, stays true to the original fairytale form and threads morals and lessons throughout. A particularly touching moment is when Greta is led astray by the Snow Queen, and spends time in a warm house while Crow is outside. Upon realising her mistake and apologising, she tells him ‘when you’re warm and happy and safe, it’s easy to forget that others are cold and sad and scared’. A statement that, while a little heavy-handed, is applicable to so many vulnerable groups in society today. It is a nice way to remind children at Christmas that they are lucky to have everything they’ve got.
The Snow Queen is a shining example of how fringe theatre can delight and amuse just as much as bigger shows. This simple production gives a classic tale the essence of a bedtime story to bring it to life. Charming and humble, it’s a lovely Christmas show for kids and adults alike.
The Snow Queen is playing at Theatre N16 until December 22.
Photo: Andreas Lambis