Writer Anupama Chandrasekhar’s new adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s chilling tale, The Snow Queen, transports young protagonist, Gerda, (now called Gowri), to the heat and magic of India. Gowri finds herself on a whirlwind adventure to rescue her best friend Kumar from the clutches of the tortured Snow Queen. She must face the insistent street-sellers of Mumbai, a Bollywood movie set and a gang of bandits to reach her goal. Thanks to Phil Clarke’s dynamic lighting design and some wonderfully simple special effects, this production, although not outwardly ‘Christmassy’, does contain elements of magic, celebration and warmth that leave the audience feeling appropriately festive.
Chandrasekhar’s script is a vibrant combination of tongue-in-cheek silliness, (take the Bollywood spoof scene, for example), and classic fairy-tale morality. Rather fractured at times, the action leaps between short snappy scenes, making it somewhat difficult to keep up with the plot. However, with some hilarious comic performances, most notably Nimmi Harasgama as the Hindu Goddess and Asif Khan as Kaka, (half crow/half man), the disjointed feel to the show is forgivable and certainly delivers the unexpected.
The cast of seven work extremely well as an ensemble covering a multitude of characters, from the bizarre to the slightly disturbing. When not playing a character role, the actors work as a supporting chorus to deliver props by hand, and maintain a sense of movement and fluidity to enhance the main event.
At times, the production perfectly captures the exotic setting, transporting the audience to bustling Mumbai, and yet too often for my taste makes jarring references to twenty-first century technology. Call me old-fashioned, but a stream of references to iPhones, Playstations and GPS devices doesn’t quite sit right. On the other hand, clarinettist and composer Arun Ghosh’s modern soundtrack works well to support the energy of the actors on stage and to drive the action forward.
Stylistically, the movement direction draws on Indian dance and posture to create some really interesting sequences. The three-headed character, Tridev, is played by three actors who use some theatrical gurning and hand puppetry to build symmetry and complicity. A later scene finds Gowri struggling to identify her best friend Kumar out of a twitching group of imposters wearing masks with his face on. Personally, I find it refreshing that a show aimed primarily at children has taken such care to focus on the physicality and choreography and with great results, thanks to Emily Gray, Artistic Director of Trestle Theatre.
Visually, this production really hits the mark. If you are looking for a dark and sinister retelling of the original, you may be disappointed, however if you are looking for something a bit different to the usual Christmas family show, it is well worth taking a look.
The Snow Queen is playing at the Unicorn Theatre until 8 January. For more information and tickets, see the Unicorn Theatre’s website.