As Christmas looms ever closer, festive productions have hit theatreland in their droves.
This year’s offering from the Rose, a new adaptation of The Snow Queen, is an absolute delight.
Steering away from the traditional pantomime and opting instead for more of a straight play with original songs scattered throughout, the production is charming, funny and heart-warming.
Writer and director Ciaran McConville puts his own spin on the classic fairy tale, notably adding in some distinctly Christmassy elements.
After Gerda (Parisa Shahmir) discovers that she is a Child of Magic and wanted by the evil Snow Queen (Helena Blackman) for her powers, her best friend Kai (Jack Wolfe) is lured away by the villain and Gerda must embark on a perilous journey to the Frozen North to rescue him.
Encountering several sparkling characters along the way, including a talking reindeer, Gerda must defeat the Snow Queen and stop her from causing an eternal winter – with no Christmas.
Every element of this performance combines to create a truly magical production, both atmospherically and physically with the inclusion of impressive stage effects.
A sparse wooden set transforms seamlessly into an ice palace, a pirate ship and Evergreen, home of Father Christmas (Roger May) and his elves, leaving the audience completely enthralled.
Eamonn O’Dwyer’s original songs enhance the story, spread out well within the play’s structure so they don’t feel too frequent. Sung brilliantly by the cast, they add to the atmosphere of enchantment.
To take us on this exciting adventure, a professional cast of five is joined by two alternating casts of 23 from the Rose Youth Theatre. Ranging from 10 to 22 years old, these talented young actors each play a specific named character, all crucial to the plot, which results in driven, intelligent performances worthy of such a high-calibre production.
On this evening we were treated to watching the Blue Cast perform, and given the high standard seen across the board I have no doubt the Red Cast is just as remarkable.
My personal favourite character, who I am sure was also a firm favourite for many other audience members, was in fact played – or manoeuvred – by three cast members from the youth theatre. Bancu, the talking reindeer puppet, stole the entire show as well as the hearts of the audience.
Working his head and voice, Francis Redfern from the Blue Cast is a great talent; his comic timing and the endearing affability he gives the reindeer are utterly perfect. As with any expert display of puppetry, we quickly forget the puppet is being manipulated by actors and come to see it as a full character in itself.
Nancy Whitworth must also be commended as the young pirate captain Bonny, a role she plays with convincing ferocity.
The professional cast are able to blend in and out of the youth ensemble with ease, which is a wonderful thing to see. Shahmir and Wolfe as Gerda and Kai are marvellous. Wolfe plays Kai with wit and yet a child-like innocence, and Shahmir’s Gerda is full of energy and purpose.
Meanwhile the pair’s gorgeous singing voices complement each other brilliantly.
The Snow Queen’s song, belted superbly by Blackman, is good fun, seemingly what Let It Go would have been in Frozen, which is loosely based on The Snow Queen, had Elsa turned out to be evil.
Completing the principal cast, May is thoroughly lovable as both Kai’s dad and Father Christmas, and Davina Moon’s Freya is an intriguing woman of mystery, the full extent of her character not revealed until partway through the second act.
If it is warmth and festivity you are after this Christmas, you won’t find much better than The Snow Queen. At its heart are themes of love triumphing and that there’s always hope, messages much needed by both adults and children watching.
As Father Christmas himself says: “Christmas is always perfect.” You can make yours just that by heading down to the Rose Theatre this festive season.
The Snow Queen is playing at the Rose Theatre Kingston until January 5.
Feature image credit: Mark Douet.