If I were to ask you what the three hardest places to explore on earth are, one of your answers would probably be the North Pole. The geographic one to be precise, rather than the four other North Poles, or the city of North Pole in Alaska, which has holiday-themed street names like Mistletoe and North Star Drive.
All of them, apart from Alaska maybe, are pretty inaccessible, but that doesn’t stop a determined 15-year old from going on the adventure of a lifetime.
A Hundred Words For Snow follows the story of Rory – short for Aurora – a typical awkward teenager, a bit of a quirky outcast perhaps, but she can assure you she has kissed before. Rory’s father is her geography teacher, but in her heart, she knows he’s an explorer who is always planning the next adventure they will have together. When he dies suddenly, Rory knows what she must do. Wrapped up warm, with half a sandwich and her dad’s ashes tucked in her rucksack, she is on a mission to take her dad to the North Pole.
Rory is played by Gemma Barnett, who is pure joy to watch. She gives Rory a sarcastic cheekiness mixed with genuine vulnerability. The excitement she portrays on stage is infectious and she very quickly has every single audience member under her spell. It is a benefit of the very cosy atmosphere of Studio 2 at Trafalgar Studios that we sit right up close to the stage, because we can see the impact of every line well up in Barnett’s face before she says them. I feel as though I could plug my ears and still be able to follow the story.
Tatty Hennessy’s script is outrageously funny and deeply moving. I am forever going to be amazed at writers who can carefully balance emotions on a knife’s edge and know when to flick them off to achieve the greatest impact. A Hundred Words For Snow manages to capture a genuine teenage voice we see far too little of on stage. An unlikely hero whose new life experiences blend seamlessly and often hilariously with the unfolding narrative.
Director Lucy Jane Atkinson has given a heavy topic a sense of lightness. Even on a small stage, we can feel the production breathe and take up space far beyond the confines of the performance space.
The set design by Christianna Mason is ingenious, creating a landscape which reflects the explorer spirit and is downright beautiful. Every time something was pulled from a little cubby or out of a chest, my heart jumped like a child on an Easter egg hunt.
Lighting Designer Lucy Adams’ use of dark blue aids the show in its moments of silence and reflection, and Sound Designers Mark Sutcliffe and Annie May Fletcher give direction to the play without it being overbearing, creating a shifting soundscape fit for an adventure.
A Hundred Words For Snow is a love letter to the theatre, to explorers and, of course, to the North Pole. It made me feel genuinely good and hopeful that there are people out there who care about our environment and those people close to us. I still find tears suddenly dripping down my face, and I must have looked a right state crying into the miso soup I grabbed on the way home as a quick dinner.
I very much hope you leave A Hundred Words For Snow and take a moment to stand still, look up into the sky, feel the whole earth holding you up and be your own North Pole.
A Hundred Words For Snow is playing until 30 March. For more information and tickets, visit the Trafalgar Studios wesbite.