The Snow Queen Rock 'n' Roll Panto
New Wolsey, Ipswich
There is no doubt that one of the hardest hit industries during this pandemic has been theatres and live performance.
Panto season is usually harvest time for the sector but social distancing, tier level restrictions and continual change of government rules have meant it’s been extremely hard for any theatre to plan a show, let alone adapt to the times.
The New Wolsey as taken the situation by the scruff of the neck and reinvented its popular rock 'n' role genre, producing a pocket-sized panto that still hits all the buttons and, in spite of the restrictions, produces two hours of live entertainment that in some ways benefits from being shorter and more compact.
With a much smaller cast than usual of just five actors and much less set to move around but with greater use of video projections, Peter Rowe and his team have created this year’s production around the story of The Snow Queen (the inspiration, it must be said, for C S Lewis’s The Lion the Witch & The Wardrobe). With her wicked sidekick Icicle, who breaks a mirror which spreads its shards of bitterness and hardheartedness far and wide, The Snow Queen plans to turn the world to winter. She abducts a young village lad, Kay, taking him to her snow palace to turn him into her icy hearted companion. His friend Gerda is tasked by the Spirit of Spring to go and rescue him along with Kay’s mother, Dame Sigrid Smorgasbord.
All the cast are New Wolsey regulars and all play instruments and sing as well as performing the various characters. Partly due to the fact that with so few of them they need to time to change and partly due to the need to live-stream this time, clever use is made of video to convey some of the scenes. Early on, Gerda & Kay sing a love song filmed in various well-known parts of Ipswich and the scenes of the Snow Queen arriving in her sleigh and scenes in the ice palace come over really well on film. Especially good is a journey sequence with Dame Sigrid and Gerda performing to the Proclaimers’ song "I would walk 500 miles" against a background of roads around and out of Ipswich, the footage being gradually speeded up until they ended up in Norwich.
But it’s really the live action we have all been craving for and the cast do not disappoint. Steve Simmonds holds the stage as Dame Sigrid Smorgasbord with plenty of slightly risqué jokes and local references to keep the audience happy. James Haggie reprises a role performed many times before as Simple Simon. His comic timing is spot-on and he has a lovely voice to boot. He’s also called on to be the panto villain, Icicle. Natasha Lewis has to deal with similar split personality roles as both the good Spirit of Spring and the wicked Snow Queen, her transformation all the more remarkable as she disappears down the trap all wholesome and emerges in a matter of moments from the back of the stage cool as, well... ice.
Lucy Wells works hard as Gerda, and her vocals always impress. Adam Langstaff works equally hard as both Kay and his father Sven, the object of Dame Sigrid’s affections. Their comic scenes together are one of the highlights of the show.
Nothing is missing from this energetic and colourful production; it’s just a bit more compact, and reducing the running time in my opinion is no bad thing. There are still plenty of upbeat songs and even the usual puppets, this year in the shape of huskies, make an appearance at the side of the stage.
So what about audience interaction? Well no ‘he’s behind you’ or community singing of course, but we did get to clap along, Dame Sigrid still picked a member of the audience to make fun of and there was an opportunity for one family watching online to produce ‘The Great Hammer of Ipswich’ used by Gerda and Dame Sigrid to smash their way into the ice palace. We even had a chance to vote for the name of said hammer during the interval (the winner was Hammery McHammerface!)
The New Wolsey has made a huge effort to make sure the theatre is adhering to strict social distancing rules so there are no refreshments that can be purchased, a one-way system through the building, compulsory mask wearing and the auditorium is separated by screens and cordoned-off seats. But the staff made sure everybody felt welcome and the atmosphere was one of both relief and jollity.
It all felt safe and very Christmassy and the blended production was five-star quality.
The New Wolsey should be congratulated for reinventing their version of panto and getting it up and running, if only for five days. It was a point of light at the end of what has been a very dark tunnel.
I don’t think there are many physical seats left, but if you can get a live-stream ticket I would urge you to do so. You won’t be disappointed.
Reviewer: Suzanne Hawkes