The Snow Queen @ Northern Stage

Arts editor Caitlin Rawlings reviews Northern Stage's new Christmas production, The Snow Queen.

Caitlin Rawlings
7th December 2019

The Snow Queen is one of Hans Christian Anderson’s classic stories which has inspired other popular narratives such as Walt Disney’s Frozen and C.S.Lewis’ Narnia tales.

Anderson’s original story begins with a prologue which regards an evil troll who creates a mirror that makes good things appear as ugly and horrible things seem good. The trolls plan to show the mirror to God, however they accidently drop the mirror and it shatters. These shards of glass enter the world. If a shard of glass enters an individual’s eyes, they only see the worst aspects of others and if the glass reaches their heart they turn to ice. Anderson’s original prologue constructs the background story to the events which take place during the performance as Kai’s heart and eye are struck by shards of glass. Luckily for Kai his best friend Gerda ventures into unknown lands to cure him and save him from the grasp of the infamous Snow Queen. Northern Stage’s epic rendition of The Snow Queen is currently being performed throughout December until January 4th, 2020. I was lucky enough to attend the show’s opening night. 

Excitement was rife as I entered Northern Stage. The box office area was buzzing with anticipation as people of all ages rushed in to collect their tickets. I was intrigued to see whether this adaption of The Snow Queen could compete with Northern Stage’s production of A Christmas Carol which took place in 2018. As I entered the auditorium, I recognised the traverse staging which was used back in 2018. Clearly this staging had been a success, thus was reused for this production. As I took my seat, I began to notice the intricacies of the set. The wooden staging was constructed to cater to a performance which required numerous entrances and exits from actors. Raised scaffolding was used to situate a live band onstage. The set seemed sparse which informed my expectations of the performance. I awaited a stylised approach to this festive fairytale.

The audience were introduced to the unusual town of Stifle where wishing is forbidden and snow means danger

These expectations were met the moment the performance began, and the audience were introduced to the unusual town of Stifle where wishing is forbidden, and snow means danger. The stylised moments of the performance were unforgettable. The transition from the school bus to the classroom was brilliantly done using transferrable school desks and the use of glass windows to replicate a moving train was an incredible directorial decision from Mark Calvert. I believe the standout performer of the night was Pauline Penman who plays the role of Elsie Orr. Elsie reminds me of a young Mrs Trunchbull, an intimidating schoolteacher with a rigid set of rules and a deep-rooted hatred for children. Penman’s portrayal of this pantomime character appealed to the diverse audience as both young and old audience members chuckled as she stomped around the stage. The entire cast appeared to be composed of multi-talented performers as actors began to play numerous instruments and sing beautifully throughout. 

Pauline Penman as Elsie Orr.
Photo credit: Pamela Raith Photography

The set and costume designer, Rhys Jarman, did a wonderful job in creating the fantastical fictional world in which the Snow Queen lives. The Snow Queen's final costume was an icy white gown and ice crown which looked incredible under the stage lights. The costumes of the Snow Queen's four white wolves utilised neon lighting to create the spines of the wolves which was another excellent design choice from Jarman. The elaborate costumes used in the performance encapsulated the high production values which Northern Stage always offer.

Elizabeth Carter as the Snow Queen.
Photo credit: Pamela Raith Photography

The presence of a singing rose named Ninny and other furry creatures implied that the performance is intended to be child friendly

The production as a whole would be perfect for families specifically with young children. I believe the narrative is intended for a younger demographic than myself. The presence of a singing rose named Ninny and other furry creatures implied that the performance is intended to be child friendly. Even the supposedly scary Snow Queen was characterised in a way which was not remotely scary. It is evident that Northern Stage has created this adaption with the intention of providing a night of light-hearted fun for families this Christmas and New Year. 

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