Written by Mike Kenny for the Dundee Rep Ensemble, The Snow Queen is a family pantomime with a lovely balance of sing-a-long songs, audience interaction, warm humour, compelling plot and clever stage design. This original and distinctly Scottish take on the classic Hans Christian Anderson’s tale makes jokes about the Scottish weather, comments on the character of Glaswegians, and even has something to say about Irn-Bru.
The narrative focuses on Gerda’s journey to rescue her friend Kai (Martin McBride), who is being held captive in the Snow Queen’s palace. Gerda (Molly Vevers) “muddles through” many challenging situations, helped by a colourful array of characters, including talking birds, witches and strangely human flowerbeds. The refrain, “I will muddle my way through” speaks to Gerda’s loss of direction and her child-like confusion. But ultimately her courage and determination prevail, as do the friendships she finds along the way.
The story is narrated by Gerda’s ‘granny’ (Ann Louise Ross), who is both storyteller for the stage children and for the audience. She has a pair of magic glasses which allow her to see beyond the safe winter village which the characters inhabit. The clever casting of granny as an optician explains her insight into the unfolding events, as various lenses enable her to track Gerda’s journey and to keep the audience aware of developments. Her role also emphasises the importance of sight as a thematic concern in the patomime. Granny keeps a watchful eyeon her granddaughter by disguising herself as a crow, a snowman, a pigeon, a penguin and a flower.
Kai is captured by the Snow Queen after a piece of enchanted glass is in embedded in his eye, penetrating his heart and rendering him unable to see beauty in anything. His sudden thirst for power and his desire to see what lies beyond the village makes him distant and rude towards Gerda, and he is led astray by the Snow Queen’s deceptions.
Whilst Granny observes these changes, it is Gerda who must “grow” through these challenges. Granny might provide help but she has to appreciate and accept Gerda’s growing independence. In this coming-of-age test of Gerds’s capabilities, it is not adult guidance but the strength of Gerda’s love for Kai which drives her on. When the rest of the villagers believe that Kai has drowned, Gerda’s friendship enables her to see beyond this, and she alone is left to rescue him. That she manages to restore his sight and in a way which departs from the Hans Christian Anderson tale, strengthens Kenny’s story-line. True to the original tale, Gerda finds Kai attempting to create something that ‘lasts forever’ from blocks of ice, at the demand of his captor. The blocks of ice are represented by large tiles with letters carved on them and the entire audience seemed rapt when Gerda demonstrated to Kai how ‘nothing lasts forever’, showing in the process showing that even friendship does not remain static but changes. Gerda’s new acceptance of this shows a a new maturity.
The happy ending (theatrically enhanced by snow-machines and the release of large bouncing “snowballs” into the audience); the songs and dances; the well-placed humour and the fantastically varied array of imaginative characters, costumes and set ensure that The Snow Queen is entertaining. This production provides an original version of the famed fairy tale in a way that works on different levels: a moral engagement for those who want it but also a carnival of colour and sound. This humorous take on the compelling coming-of-age narrative, and the modernisation of the traditional fairy story, is carried out sensitively and intelligently. It is managed in a way which is thought-provoking, and which may leave you creatively inspired; it will certainly have you laughing, singing and dancing right up to the well-earned standing ovation – and maybe even beyond.
Catriona Ward Sell