This year’s Christmas show at the Nuffield Theatre is a heart-warming tale of friendship, morality and bravery. Adapted for the stage by Georgia Pritchett, The Snow Queen tells the story of a lonely young girl, Gerda, whose only friend Kai is kidnapped by the wicked title character. What follows is her pursuit to save him, and the growth of the friendships that she makes along the way. In this, we meet some truly charming characters and see some great performances, most notably by Jack Shalloo as the Raven whose sharp delivery prompts the most giggles in the audience between both kids and adults. Nicola Munns brings a bright, sparkling energy to the stage as the Princess (Snow White) and Robber Maiden (Little Red Riding Hood), the latter of which inspiring something of a fan club amongst the girls in the audience – a great outcome for the strong, independent female character.
Jessie Hart’s performance as Gerda is lovely, and she does a remarkable job with a character who is short on depth. For the first half of the show it is a struggle to understand why this irresistibly likeable girl is so staunchly adverse to having a friend other than Kai. In theory, this should prompt a sense of mystery to propel the story forwards, and draw an intriguing symmetry between herself and the Snow Queen. Instead, it is confusing, and would benefit from clearer, earlier indication that her reservations are because she is scared, rather than unjustifiably dismissive. Similarly, it is difficult to decide whether or not we are supposed to warm to the Snow Queen, particularly as the performance by Natasha Jayetileke is lacking in conviction, and only reaches discernable intentions in the final moments of the show.
In her defence, this is a family show, so we are not expecting a villain brimming with horror and menace to scare the children. Nor do we expect cartoon characters who irritate the adults, and to this extent, Pritchett has done right by the audience. But in terms of the approach to comedy, the writing hits neither mark. A joke built on the harmful stereotype that in a married couple, the husband prefers the wife when she’s not talking, lands uncomfortably. Regardless of whether the character is Snow White or Sleeping Beauty, the potential connotations of the line, “I prefer my women horizontal and unconscious” do not belong with an audience of parents and children. Likewise, jokes built around an overtly camp – though brilliantly performed – reindeer are just not useful, and I hope we laughed primarily at his performance than at the idea of a man being excited by other men.
On the plus side, the set and lighting design by Ti Green and Mark Doubleday respectively is quite beautiful, and gasp-worthy for all ages. Spires of light stem from the stage floor and hang from the ceiling, twinkling and changing colour according to the climate of the scene. Most strikingly, while Kai is confined to the ice palace, he spends most of the show sitting on a swing hanging above the stage, gradually turning bluer and colder. His presence is a constant reminder of how much we want him to be rescued, and serves as a guiding force for act two. Credit for this effect must also go to Jos Slovick for his warm, delicate performance.
It is almost the cosy, fun production that it sometimes promises to be, and the musical numbers are catchy and jaunty, if occasionally lyrically weak. On the whole, for a fix of seasonal spirits and some uplifting entertainment, it works a treat.