Reviewed – 23rd November 2019
“a visual feast for young and old eyes alike”
The Snowman, based on Raymond Briggs’ award winning children’s book, is brought to the stage by composer Howard Blake, director Bill Alexander and choreographer Robert North for its annual visit at the Peacock Theatre in London’s West End. It’s a perennial favourite among children and their parents “at the most magical time of the year,” and it’s easy to see why. Blake’s music, including the hit song “Walking in the Air” (sung by Aled Jones), plus North’s choreography—with Alexander’s direction tying it all together—makes The Snowman one of those rare shows that can hold the attention of the primary school set and their younger siblings. It also helps that this show, like the book, has no words. The Birmingham Repertory Theatre’s production of The Snowman is a visual feast for young and old eyes alike.
That said, this production has a rather different look from the drawings in the book, although designer Ruari Murchison finds ways to portray the eponymous hero and the young boy who creates and befriends him that are recognisable enough. And it’s hard to find fault with the design for the myriad of other creatures not in the book, who come to join the Snowman and his friends on stage. The never ending array of toys, fruit, and adorable animals that come to life and dance in their unwieldy costumes is something the child in all of us can appreciate. The talented dancers, led by dance captain Antony Edwards, bring off the difficult combination of comedy and grace in their performances, to the delight of their young audience. The set uses the space at the Peacock cleverly and efficiently, given that a lot of room has to be created for the dancers (and for flying the Snowman and the Boy). The small but effective band, under the musical direction of Costas Fotopoulos, creates a lively sound that is loud enough to overcome the constant murmuring of adults and kids commenting on the action, but not so loud that an audience with sensitive ears could object.
The elements of the story in The Snowman are familiar to anyone who loves folk tales. It has some things in common with The Nutcracker, which may be the reason it was adapted into a seasonal show. But The Snowman is a much simpler tale—perfectly designed for a younger audience that may not be quite ready for the complexities of Clara and her world in The Nutcracker. In short, Boy creates a Magical Snowman which he then introduces to the commonplace items of his world, such as clothing, toys, and food. But through the Snowman’s magic these items also become magical, and the boy’s world is transformed, culminating in a fantastic flight to the Snowman’s world where the roles are reversed. Now it is the Boy who becomes the magical figure transforming the world of the Snowmen and their friends. Add in the rescue of the Snow Princess from the evil Jack Frost, and all is ready for a happy celebration before the Boy returns home. Was his journey just a dream? But he still has the scarf that Father Christmas gave him, so of course it must be true.
If there is one criticism to be made of this show, it is that it runs a hundred minutes with an interval. That is a long time for very young children to manage, and there were predictable meltdowns towards the end of the second half. But for the most part, the audience was entranced by the music and dancing, and loved opportunities for waving at the Snowman and the Boy as they flew across the stage. So if panto is not your thing, and you are searching for a seasonal substitute to take your young friends and family to, why not introduce them to The Snowman?
Reviewed by Dominica Plummer
Photography by Tristram Kenton
Peacock Theatre until 5th January 2019
Previously reviewed at this venue: