The Snow Queen

Hans Christian Andersen, adapted by Theresa Heskins

New Vic Theatre Company

New Vic, Newcastle-under-Lyme

From 19 November 2016 to 28 January 2017

Review by Steve Orme

The Danish word hygge—roughly translated as a feeling of cosiness and wellbeing—has come to prominence in 2016 and the New Vic’s artistic director Theresa Heskins has given it prominence in her new adaptation of the well-known fairy tale.

She has taken the story, one of Hans Christian Andersen’s longest, and given it a treatment everyone has come to expect from the Staffordshire theatre-in-the-round: great attention to detail coupled with a captivating set courtesy of Laura Clarkson, amazing costumes from Lis Evans and beautiful lighting by Daniella Beattie.

Add to that 12 talented actor-musicians who throw themselves wholeheartedly into the production and you have the recipe for another potential success. But The Snow Queen does not completely melt your heart: it takes too long to get going and the music, while competently performed, is instantly forgettable.

The Snow Queen has been adapted many times into stage plays and musicals. Heskins’s version concentrates on the battle between good and evil and omits some of the darker elements which characterise the original.

The story features Gerda and Kai who live next door to each other. One day the Snow Queen arrives and tries to get the two young friends to look at her, which means they will be under her power. Gerda resists but Kai succumbs to temptation and is led off to the Snow Queen’s world which he finds “clean, beautiful, perfect”.

Polly Lister, who takes the title role, gives a superb performance. She grabs the audience’s attention whenever she is on stage and her singing voice is particularly impressive as she presents a hard-hearted rather than evil queen.

Natasha Davidson gives a charming interpretation of Gerda without being totally enchanting. Luke Murphy’s Kai transforms from a dear playmate into a selfish, self-absorbed boy; he lacks a cuteness which would break the hearts of the more mature members of the audience. Yet his scene with the Snow Queen in which he is unable to create the sound of laughter for her because there are no other children present is particularly poignant.

There are good performances from Victoria Brazier as Summer when Gerda finds herself in a gloriously colourful garden and Lizzie Franks as the Clever Princess who gives Gerda her golden coach as she sets off in search of Kai.

Heskins directs with her customary vision and inventiveness. Eight of the cast look assured as they wear inline skates to glide over a lake at the start of the show. A sequence towards the end when time is reversed and the cast perform excerpts from the play going backwards is exceptionally clever.

As snow fell from the roof at the end of the show I attended, there was rapturous applause from the audience. The acting and presentation could hardly be faulted. And although I had a feeling of hygge, I left with the impression that the show could do with a little more magic to make it as memorable as some of the New Vic’s previous festive successes.