The Snow Queen

Nov 25 2023 | By More

★★★★☆      Epic

Royal Lyceum Theatre: Thurs 23 Nov – Sun 31 Dec 2023
Review by Hugh Simpson

The Snow Queen at the Lyceum provides thrills, humour and imaginative theatricality. Morna Young’s adaptation (directed by Cora Bissett, with music by Finn Anderson) could not be staged in 2020 for obvious reasons.

Three years on, its epic combination of heroic adventures and spirited nonsense finally comes to the stage. If the end result is a little baggy at times, it is always compelling and charming.

Samuel Pashby and Claire Dargo. Costume and set design by Emily James. Pic: Jess Shurte

Hans Christian Andersen’s much-adapted story has that marvellous and terrifying central idea – a mirror that only reflects the negative, and whose pieces can become lodged in the eye or heart, rendering you unable to perceive beauty or feel joy.

The epic sweep of the original gives a great deal to work with, although the overtly religious elements can sit badly with modern audiences, and – whisper it – the character of the villainous Snow Queen is not actually that interesting.

Modern retellings (particularly after Disney’s Frozen) tend to spend time giving the Queen a back story that explains her behaviour. While that also happens here, Young’s version sensibly concentrates on the journey of young Gerda to retrieve her friend Kei, who has fallen under the Queen’s power.

modern spin

The story is moved to 1890 Edinburgh, which gives room for local jokes, and many of the elements of the Andersen story – the magic garden, the crow, the robber girl, the wise old woman – are retained. In the best tradition of fairy tale adaptations, however, it is all given a spruce up and a modern spin.

Sebastian Lim-Seet and Rosie Graham. Costume and set design by Emily James. Pic: Jess Shurte

The result is good-humoured, good-hearted and performed with an unflagging energy by an ensemble (most in several roles) superbly deployed by Bissett. The result is inventive, effervescent and frequently joyful.

Young and composer Anderson have provided a varied set of songs, with Anderson’s sound design adding to the atmosphere created by Emily James’s auditorium-mirroring set and wonderful costumes, and the wintry lighting of Lizzie Powell. Jack Webb’s movement direction and the fight direction of EmmaClaire Brightlyn also enhance the spectacle.

There are often problems with adults playing children in such productions, but Rosie Graham’s Gerda anchors the production excellently, being honest and sincere without being cloying. Sebastian Lim-Seet’s Kei is similarly appealing.

beautifully physical performance

Claire Dargo’s Snow Queen is suitably icy and forbidding, with Samuel Pashby’s beautifully physical performance as her minion Corbie providing effective double acts both with the Queen and Gerda.

Rosie Graham, Richard Conlon and Samuel Pashby. Costume and set design by Emily James. Pic: Jess Shurte.

The other cast members impress in a variety of roles, whether supplying grounded realism or more expansive comedy. Wendy Seager, Antony Strachan and Naomi Stirrat prove tremendously versatile, with Kieran Andrew and Yana Harris providing sterling support. Richard Conlon’s Hamish the Unicorn, bedecked in pink and apparently capable of excreting rainbows, is simply fabulous.

It is not all perfect. Despite being described as for ages 5+, this is not as much aimed at a young audience as you might expect.

The level of jeopardy from the Queen, and the messages about friendship and working sustainably with nature, are pitched just right, but the balance of the humour seems off. There are too few jokes aimed at kids, and too many for an older crowd.

too long

It is also too long for the youngest attendees. Christmas shows that start at 7.00 pm should definitely be finished long before 9.30, not creeping inexorably past it.

There are too many scenes, some are too extended, songs are reprised too often, and there is too much repetition. The Queen’s backstory, brilliantly told by Seager in an evocative opening, is then repeated unnecessarily in a second half which starts to drag.

However, the energy on stage keeps the attention in a production that is extremely entertaining and great fun.

Running time 2 hours 35 minutes including one interval
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Grindlay St, EH9 3AX
Thurs 23 Nov to Sun 31 Dec 2023
Tue – Sat: 7pm; Mats Sat: 2pm; Sun: 1pm & 6pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

The cast of The Snow Queen. Costume and set design by Emily James. Pic: Jess Shurte


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