Too many restless elephants
When it comes to global warming, writer Ian Toner has something to say, and he attempts to say it in his problematic adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s classic “The Snow Queen.” Yet where Anderson can make his ideological points and still tell an engaging tale with charm and warmth, Toner’s adaptation doesn’t work near as well. Granted, there’s moments of fun and laughter, as well as a lot of energy at times, but there are just too many clumsy elephants in the room, aside from those which Toner himself speaks of. There’s a disappointing musical, a story that goes on far too long, language that struggles to sustain engagement and no way near enough theatrical inventiveness, despite an upstaging puppet and a clever sleigh. The result is a lacklustre children’s show, with a Christmas connection wedged in for good measure, that no amount of commitment from a hugely invested cast can elevate to anything more than a problematic musical built upon a sporadic series of entertaining funny bits.
In Toner’s adaptation, “Waterworld” meets a loosely referenced “The Snow Queen” in its tale of Gerda and Kay, two best friends living in a Venice-like city without all the architectural prettiness. Kay questions everything, especially the truth as told to him by their governing Corporation, about why the world is as it is. Gerda, on the other hand, doesn’t want to rock the boat. When the Snow Queen lures Kay away to her palace, Gerda goes off in search of him, with her trusty parrot Pollyanna. Along the way she meets a lonely lighthouse keeper, a fearsome pirate and his psychotic daughter, Rudolpho the Reindeer, some underwater creatures and old Saint Nick himself, all of whom seem to narratively serve the purpose of delaying Gerda’s arrival at The Snow Queen’s palace. But will Kay remember her if she ever gets there, or will he stay forever seduced by the Snow Queen?
With a running time of two hours, “The Snow Queen” asks a lot of its audience, and not just the younger members. With its tale fleshed out by a series of immediately forgettable songs, many of which are poorly delivered, in some cases being barely audible, its effort at being a musical are deeply disappointing. Musically, sound design by Jack Cawley shows a lot of promise, but lyrically and vocally the musical numbers just don’t deliver, with the pirate song being the exception to the rule. Set design by Molly O’Caithlin suggests great effort on a small budget, with its series of elevated platforms and imaginative use of floor images reinforcing the tale being told, which Bill Woodward’s lighting design supports terrifically well. For the most part, director Sarah Finlay seems content to simply shift the action from one side of the stage to the other as scenes change, which doesn’t really exploit other possibilities and adds to the already lengthy feel of the production. Something which its energetic cast do their utmost to address, with most playing several characters throughout.
While ensemble work is often funniest, if a little rushed and loose at times, individual performances are strong for the most part. John Merriman as the suave Rudolpho is a sheer delight. Gerard Adlum’s, Pirate, and John Doran’s, Kay, are also engaging, as is Nessa Matthews as The Snow Queen. If Kay is painfully underdeveloped as a character, Doran does the best he can with what's available to him, as well as excelling in the ensemble pieces. Aislinn O’Byrne is a scene stealing delight as the highly entertaining Pollyanna and the hilariously disturbing Mildred. Clodagh Mooney Duggan as the conforming nonconformist Gerda, strikes the right balance throughout, making Gerda always engaging in a perfectly pitched performance.
With its notions of a cancelled Christmas and a dangerous and forgotten Santa, "The Snow Queen" touches on the Christmas season, if not in the most interesting or engaging of ways. Indeed, the “The Snow Queen” makes clear that writing a seasonal tale for children is no easy task. Yet if not a Christmas classic, and if often light on charm, “The Snow Queen” still has bundles of laughs and energy. It may labour its points, overstay its welcome, and with its weak songs, didactic tone and over wrought language, may not hit the mark as often as it should. But when it does hit the mark, it can often be a terrifically enjoyable experience.
“The Snow Queen” written by Ian Toner from the story by Hans Christian Anderson, runs at Smock Alley Theatre until December 23rd.
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