If you are looking for a fun family show for Christmas this upbeat and hilarious reworking of the Snow Queen story is for you. Writer Charles Way has adapted the Hans Christian Anderson favourite into a lively and engaging romp of an adventure, following Gerda on her quest to free Cei from the wicked Snow Queen. On the way she grows in courage and strength, finding herself as well as her friend. Christopher James Ash’s joyful musical mash-ups had the children in the audience on their feet, dancing along, caught in the atmosphere and loving it.
Ayesha Casely-Hayford is a sweet and charming Gerda, initially prone to panic attacks, and becoming resourceful and brave as her journey progresses. Esmonde Cole’s Cei is a teenager messing up at school and looking for more in life. Their friendship felt real, and like something worth fighting for when Gerda’s father forbids them to see each other. The father is played by Justin Brett, who also plays Daffodil and Bae the reindeer. His preening and beautifully camp Daffodil was definitely one of the comedy highlights of the show, and he brings the reindeer, a beautiful and magical creature of the forest, ably to life. The snow queen enters with a powerful soprano outburst as Frances Marshall revels in her evil character, and the other three cast members, Matt Cavendish, Paula James and Sarah-Louise Young, play their multiple roles with gusto. James’ Princess Frederica and her sidekick played by Young were a TOWIE delight and Cavendish danced and bashed people with gay abandon in the forest.
All this activity took place in Gregor Donnelly’s imaginative set and Richard Williamson’s lighting that showed us stars, the northern lights and the passing of the seasons, with added atmosphere from James Nicholson’s sound design. Abigail Anderson, the director, has worked with her company to make a little bit of magic and a whole lot of fun.
“Any subtlety is lost in the maze-like opacity of Restoration English”
You can easily see why Aphra Behn would be the subject for a new historical play: not only was she the first female writer in England to be paid her dues, she is also credited with having written the first novel (no, it was not ‘Robinson Crusoe’!) and, to top it off, she was gay. A young, professionally and sexually liberated woman in the seventeenth century- the ideal historiographic candidate.
However, much like her male counterpart Defoe, her writing is understandably dated and very hard to get through; you’re better off considering her achievements historically than actually delving in to her works. ‘Oranges and Ink’, Claire Louise Amias’ story of Aphra Behn and famous actress Nell Gwyn, unfortunately takes its style of story-telling from Ms Behn’s plays themselves. Any subtlety is lost in the maze-like opacity of Restoration English, as are most of the jokes, and the ones we understand are very ye-olde ‘bawdy’- not really for a modern audience.
Regardless, Sarah Lawrie (Nell Gwyn) shows a knack for comic acting, and whilst as I say, most of the jokes are lost, we at least know they’re being told – like watching a foreign comedy. Similarly, Claire Louise Amias (Aphra Behn) shines best in moments of emotional sincerity and it’s clear she would excel in a meatier role. If only she had written herself one.
William Summers’ musical arrangement, in keeping with the period (lots of lute and flute), is pleasant enough, and Alex Pearson’s direction sees both actors trying effusively to engage with the text, moving spiritedly around the stage and leaning in to the few moments that the audience might actually understand and enjoy.
It is a feat for a contemporary play to be written in the lexicon of the seventeenth century, but unfortunately Claire Louise Amias’ efforts are lost on a modern audience. All in all, the fair amount of talent in this production could certainly be put to better use.