The Snowman

Raymond Briggs
Northern Sinfonia
The Sage, Gateshead
(2008)

Cartoon image

As an alternative to panto, the musical performance of The Snowman at The Sage Gateshead doesn't come much more festive.

The gentle and poignant film of the Raymond Briggs story has delighted children over the years and is still working its magic some 26 years later. And it's something of a fixture at Christmas time at The Sage, with all four shows quickly selling out.

While The Snowman plays out on the big screen in Hall One, Northern Sinfonia play the beautiful music. To a full house, as always, as this is a bit special.

Although the film may look dated and rough at the edges when it comes to the animation, it's such a classic and a firm favourite with both children and the grown-ups, who remember it from way back when.

I've seen it performed at The Sage three times, and each year Northern Sinfonia do something different in the half-hour introductory run-up to the showing of the film. This year they took us on a whirlwind journey of 'sleigh rides' before the film was shown.

It's a chatty and informal introduction, the conductor engaging in conversation with children in the audience. Members of the Sinfonia don Santa hats and there's a jolly feel to it all.

We were treated to the delights of Prokofiev's Sleigh Ride and Waldteufel's Skaters' Waltz, as well as Leroy Anderson's big blowsy Sleigh Ride that got everyone swaying and toes tapping. All well-known tunes, familiar even to little ones' ears, and with a relaxed, informal feel, the Northern Sinfonia clearly having a ball too.

It's all good-natured and nobody minds a bit of shuffling in seats and little voices as it's a family show. And everyone seems to settle down for the film in the second half.

And it is an absolute delight. The Northern Sinfonia, old hands by now at performing the music, are fantastic. It's easy to lose yourself in the film and forget that the music is actually being played live in front of you. It gives an extra edge to the film, the dramatising of bits of the action and added poignancy to sad parts.

The highlight is, of course, the brave young soloist who takes on "We're Walking in the Air". Stepping into the spotlight this year was Oliver Page, 13, from St Nicholas' Cathedral choir in Newcastle. He was similarly a delight to watch and listen to, and seemingly without nerves, his voice opening up beautifully as we were all taken on a whirlwind tour with The Snowman high above the earth. It was a performance to be proud of, and nobody more so than his mum who gave him a standing ovation at the end of the show.

A festive cracker with bells on!

Reviewer: Katharine Capocci