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 vocal mix of these three was goosebump-inducingly beautiful with some truly astonishing harmonies”
tick, tick…BOOM! has aged very well since 1990. To listen to any other writer wonder whether he’s going to change the landscape of musical theatre with his work through the medium of an autobiographical musical would seem self-aggrandising at best. However, the writer behind this show was not just any writer, but Jonathan Larson, a man who would go on to literally change the landscape of musical theatre with his work (namely Rent). It’s surprising just how well tick, tick…BOOM! stacks up compared to the Pulitzer Prize-winning behemoth that succeeded it, although it is in no small part thanks to the Bridge House Theatre’s intimate and pared-back production.
The show centres on Jon (Alex Lodge), on the verge of turning thirty and subsequently having an existential crisis. In the midst of this he also has to contend with his roommate Michael (James Hume) moving to a flashier apartment due to his new high-paying corporate job, and his girlfriend Susan (Georgie Ashford) wanting to settle down away from the city. This leaves Jon under pressure to decide whether to continue pursuing his career as a musical theatre writer or to give up and lead a ‘normal’ life with more psychological and financial stability. It’s a dilemma that will no doubt feel very familiar to any creative trying to make it professionally, and is presented very truthfully here through its rock-centric score, with songs such as ’30/90′ and ‘Real Life’ laying bare the anxieties and hopes that this kind of lifestyle will impose.
The story is not quite as slickly told as with Rent, with the feeling that Larson hadn’t quite found his voice yet – the man clearly idolised Stephen Sondheim and it bleeds through a little too much into some moments, such as in ‘Sunday’, a pastiche of Sunday in the Park with George placed in the café Jon works at, which seems to be there just for pastiche’s sake and not to expand on the story, characters, or themes. However, most other numbers feel like they are quintessentially and organically woven into the fabric of the narrative, especially those towards the end of the show such as ‘Why’ and ‘Louder Than Words’.
The intensely cosy setting of the Bridge House Theatre made for some very intimate storytelling, and the performances revelled in it. Lodge portrayed Jon with a spectacular humour and charm that didn’t forsake his urgency and insecurity, while Ashford and Hume were both also excellent, and delightfully varied in the myriad of minor characters they also took on. The vocal mix of these three was goosebump-inducingly beautiful with some truly astonishing harmonies embellished into the score, with energetic accompaniment from musical director Jamie Ross. The absence of percussion was felt at times in some of the bigger numbers, although this perhaps won’t be an issue if you’ve never heard any of the songs before. Guy Retallack’s direction deftly utilises every inch of the space, bringing a stellar sense of dynamism throughout, and Richard Williamson’s lighting design was especially notable in how effectively it established scenes, in terms of both setting and atmosphere.
There’s a sense of sentiment to tick, tick…BOOM! given Larson’s untimely death at the age of 35. As we see him fret about whether his work will ever reach a meaningful platform, it’s a little upsetting to know he’d never get to see how utterly epochal his writing would become. It’s no doubt a smart move that this production steers away from the schmaltz, instead staying laser-focused on delivering a confident and slick love letter to creative crises.