The Snow Queen opens with a thunderclap. Enter Gerda (Laura Waine), our school girl protagonist, as she arrives on her bike in a burst of chaotic energy onto the steampunk-style set. It’s an opening that’s reminiscent of Stranger Things and throws us into a quirky, fantasy landscape that calls on familiar influences like Wes Anderson and Roald Dahl. It’s a strong start to Northern Stage’s festive adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s classic fairy tale.
Gerda lives in a small town called Stifle, where dreams and wishes are discouraged. Gerda and her fellow classmates abide by strict rules under the watchful eye of their teacher Elise Orr, played with infectious gusto by Paula Penman. But when new boy Kai (Gregor McKay) arrives from out of town, he questions the status quo. Gerda and Kai form a strong bond of friendship that’s quickly thrown into jeopardy by the frosty Queen as she is summoned through the snow. It becomes Gerda’s mission to rescue her lost friend.
There is much joy to be found in this production. Music by Jermey Bradfield is fun and rousing. The cast of multi-skilled actor-musicians have bounds of childish energy. The plot might be somewhat convoluted for younger audience members but there’s enough in the visual spectacle to keep everyone entertained. There are some wonderfully surprising moments particularly the manifestation of a larger-than-life talking reindeer. Rhys Jarman’s production and costume design is wonderfully inventive and draw us effortlessly into the magical world created on stage.
Laura Lindow’s update of The Snow Queen is multilayered, and I find it refreshing that the production reaches beyond the traditional and trite Christmas messages of good cheer. Underneath the celebration and song, there’s an exploration of fear; of how powerful and restricting it can be to ourselves and others; of what we can achieve when we step outside it and look outwards. As someone who grew up and still lives in the North East, I understand the strange push and pull of feeling that comes with making a home in a small city and searching beyond for something more; that specific conflict is represented well. It also means that when Gerda goes on her adventure, we recognise that the stakes are high and her bravery is amplified.
Most of the action in The Snow Queen occurs after the interval, which indicates a slight issue with pacing. However, that doesn’t lessen my enjoyment of a show that is full of charm and the unexpected.
The Snow Queen is playing at Northern Stage until 4 January. For more information and tickets, visit the Northern Stage website.