2016 has been an epic year for the Bristol Old Vic which meant the final set of performances to grace the stage during its 12 month long 250th birthday party had to be something pretty special. Enter The Snow Queen.
The festive season is of course crucially important for theatres and we were wowed by Sleeping Beauty in December 2015 so were excited to experience this year’s festive treat. What we got was a wonderfully surreal and often hilarious version of the classic Hans Christian Andersen tale.
The story centres around the evil Snow Queen who with the help of her winged army of goblins snatch naughty children and transport them back to an icy kingdom where the wicked monarch feeds on their brains.
Our heroine is Gerda, played superbly by Emily Burnett, who as the last remaining good child sets off on an adventure to rescue her best friend Kai from the Snow Queen’s frozen grip.
All seems normal as the play begins, like so many pantos do, with happy villagers dancing and singing in a town square.
But when the Snow Queen makes her first breathtaking and genuinely terrifying entrance (we won’t give away exactly why!) you know it’s not going to be a ‘she’s behind you, boo, hiss’ kind of an evening.
For this show is downright weird (but in an entertaining way!) From a talking magpie as the leader of a socialist revolution of woodland animals to Bristol Old Vic regular Miltos Yerolemou as the absolutely outrageous Flower Witch who lives his life in a floral haze surrounded by talking roses and a grumpy parrot, writer Vivienne Franzmann has let her imagination go wild!
The design too is impressive with obvious inspiration from films like The Hunger Games and The Matrix in the costumes as well as the staging which makes clever use of technology to show movement and atmosphere as Gerda travels from one weird land to another.
The cast are super with most playing at least three characters. We were particularly taken with Joanna Holden as the Snow Queen’s Boffin Goblin who shines as a crazy winged scientist. We must also acknowledge the brilliant talent of musical director Gwyneth Herbert who brilliantly voices some of the characters we meet along the way from the side of the stage. I was convinced the talking bats genuinely were talking!
If we did have to find something negative, the story is at times a little disjointed and some scenes were hard to follow and work out how they fitted into the overall story. It is also very dark at times and while that will go down well with adults, youngsters, as our little one did, may struggle to understand some elements of the production.
Saying that though, in the city that does different so very well and doesn’t like to be normal, The Snow Queen has the perfect home.
Overall we really enjoyed it and to conclude with the words of our little one written on the noticeboard where the audience is encouraged to leave feedback: “It was wonderful. But the snow queen is pretty freaky!”. We’ll let you find out why…
3.5 out of 5 from Lifestyle District.
The Snow Queen runs at the Bristol Old Vic until 15 January 2017.
Photography credit: Mark Douet