Snowman Brings Warmth
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Review – The Snowman. Helena Gomm finds the tale of a friendship forged in snow and ice to be a heart-warming theatrical experience. (Images: Tristram Kenton)
The Snowman, the dance-theatre production based on the 1978 picture book by Raymond Briggs and the 1982 animated film, and featuring Howard Blake’s haunting score, has landed at the Mayflower Southampton for a brief but frenetic flurry of snow and activity.
The show has no words, unless you count a burst of carol singing and a ‘Ho, ho, ho’ from Santa, so you might wonder how this could capture and maintain the attention of an audience comprised mainly of children, some as young as two or three. No problem there. The entire audience was enthralled from beginning to end, as it has been for the last 24 years.
The action never flags, and there is always something to see, whatever part of the stage you focus on. The second half was rather better than the first, which meant that if there was any flagging enthusiasm at the interval, it was immediately restored by the high jinks at the North Pole.
The magic started as we entered the theatre. The stage was set up like a giant snow globe, and lighting effects gave the impression that we were in the middle of a massive snowstorm. A screen was then raised to reveal a clever set which enabled us to see both the inside of a house and the garden simultaneously, with a winding staircase leading up to the bedroom where a boy lay asleep in bed. The opening scene where he woke to find that it was snowing was lovely. I don’t know which of the Gallacher twins (Charlie or Harley) was taking the role, but he was on top form, with every move and every expression perfect.
The first half of the show concentrates on the family relationships and the building of the snowman, cleverly achieved by having the boy roll balls of snow of ever-increasing size across the stage from one wing to the other. It was a bit clunky when a gaggle of carol singers stood in a huddle with their backs to us, concealing the fact that the balls of snow were being replaced by the actual snowman (Martin Fenton, in a costume that made him look a bit like a giant labradoodle). But how else were they going to do it? And the squeals of delight from the children in the audience when the snowman was revealed show that it worked for them.
When midnight struck, the snowman came to life and was given a tour of the house by the boy, as their friendship began to develop. The snowman’s costume covered his face, meaning that his facial expression didn’t change, so this could all have been a bit sinister and creepy. However, Fenton managed to display a complex range of emotions through body language alone, and his benign bumbling made it clear that he was eminently suitable as a companion for the boy in the adventures that were about to begin.
Toys came to life, and the contents of the fridge came sashaying out to engage in some limbo dancing – who knew that a banana could be so competitive? I particularly liked the part where the boy introduced the snowman to television. Channel hopping with the remote in hand, he found the usual Christmas TV fare, including a burst of Walking in the Air, which caused him to switch immediately over to another channel.
The boy’s dad (Federico Casadei) was a little bit odd. He looked like someone very young pretending to be much older, but surely he wasn’t old enough to need the false teeth that the Snowman appeared to steal from his bedside! However, Casadei came into his own later when he reappeared in the second half as a lithe, high-kicking Santa, surrounded by a bevy of coquettishly prancing, doe-eyed reindeer and handing out the presents with aplomb.
After a quick journey in a motor cycle, which terrified a group of splendidly animated woodland creatures, the snowman and the boy took to the air to the accompaniment of Walking in the Air, a lovely arrangement in which the 12-year-old Aled Jones as the boy is accompanied by his adult self singing a tenor line as the snowman. The flying was magical and effortless: both boy and snowman appeared to be quite literally walking in the air.
In the second half, the flying continued until the pair reached the North Pole, where other snowmen in novelty costumes had gathered with Santa and a beautiful ice princess. The dancing of the various snowmen was performed with balletic grace and ease – which can’t be easy dressed in a giant labradoodle suit. When our snowman danced a duet with the ice princess, who was all dainty elegance, it didn’t seem in the least bit incongruous.
We were also treated to a pair of scene-stealing penguins – surely something of a rarity at the North Pole – who portrayed the head and foot movements of the creatures absolutely perfectly. I’m sure I missed a lot of the finer points of the dance of the snowmen because I was so mesmerised by the penguins.
A bit of tension and drama was injected into the story by the appearance of chilly Jack Frost, his arrival prefigured by a spiky silhouette projected across the moon. The snowmen appeared terrified by him, but were united in their efforts to prevent him abducting the ice princess, which of course they did. And when Jack Frost was left out in the present distribution and expressed his sadness that Santa didn’t have anything for him, there was considerable sympathy for him from the audience.
Of course, all good things come to an end, and the boy and the snowman eventually had to leave the Christmas festivities and return home. After a touching farewell in the garden, the boy returned to bed, waking shortly afterwards to bright sunshine and, to his horror, finding only a pile of clothes in the garden where the snowman once stood.
His sadness would have been heartbreaking, if it were not for the fact that snow suddenly started to fall again (on the audience as well as the stage), holding out the hope that perhaps the snowman would rise again.