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.
“The pleasure of this joyous revival stems in no small part from its truly gorgeous visual impact”
Set on the French Riviera in the 1920s, The Boy Friend was an instant hit on the London stage when it premiered in 1953. It is an affectionate, sun-drenched, period pastiche, and terribly terribly English. The book follows a tried and tested romantic comedy formula: runaway rich boy meets rich girl pretending not to be, they fall in love, overcome a tiny obstacle, and end up in one another’s arms. There is an older comedy couple – man with a roving eye and battleaxe wife – who overcome their differences and fall in love a second time; an older romantic couple, whose love, too, is rekindled, and three satellite young girls, all of whom wind up with their beaux at the show’s close. So far so hackneyed. But you don’t come to The Boy Friend for the plot.
The pleasure of this joyous revival stems in no small part from its truly gorgeous visual impact. Paul Farnsworth’s set is a delicate filigree, bringing to mind bandstands and the balmy air of long summer evenings. Paul Anderson’s stunning lighting design complements each setting and mood perfectly, with a beautiful, bold palette that makes the heart soar. The costumes too are divine, in particular those of the marvellously chic Madame Dubonnet, although the male outfits in the final carnival scene do let the side down a little. The sequins seem somewhat tawdry when set next to the pierrots and Maisie’s whimsical butterfly.
It is very easy to imagine this production on a West End stage, and it seems highly likely that it will transfer, but it was a delight to see it up close in the Menier Chocolate Factory, and to hear it up close too. The orchestra, directed by Simon Beck, was a triumph, and performed Sandy Wilson’s score with the brio and tenderness it deserves. And the dancing… The dancing was out of this world. Sharp, snappy, sexy, infectious, fabulous. Terrific choreography from Bill Deamer and a knockout dance performance from Gabrielle Lewis-Dodson, as Maisie, in particular. This production is well cast, and all the principals shine. Amara Okereke is a perfect Polly – all innocence and charm – and has a radiant soprano which is blissful to listen to; Dylan Mason’s Tony is earnest and gauche, and there is delightful on-stage chemistry between them. Janie Dee brings some star quality to the delicious, flirtatious Madame Dubonnet; Tiffany Graves is full of fun and mischief as Hortense and Adrian Edmonson gives a peerless comic turn as Lord Brockhurst.
There are a few wrinkles in the fabric – Act III loses pace, mainly owing to the superfluous tango routine, and the shrillness of Polly’s three friends is overdone – but, in essence, The Boy Friend falls around you with the caress of a fine silk kimono and you can head off into the cold December night with the warmth of the Riviera in your step.