REVIEW: ‘The Snow Queen’, The Old Rep, Birmingham

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Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fairy-tale ‘The Snow Queen’ casts its spell over Birmingham this Christmas at the Old Rep. Directed by Alec Fellows-Bennett, the show promises to be a seasonal adventure the whole family will love.

As Kai approaches his 13th birthday, he refuses to change. This threatens to upset the balance upon which his world is built, undermining the magic of the heartless Snow Queen, who rules from her Palace of Ice and Mirrors. With the help of her goblins, the Snow Queen captures Kai, and threatens to freeze him in time, plunging the world into an eternal winter. 

It is up to Gerda to rescue her best friend before it is too late. With the help of some unlikely companions, we join Kai and Gerda on an epic adventure, as they set out to melt the heart of the Snow Queen, and fill the world with love.

Kai and Gerda are best friends. Their parents object to their friendship, however – they are different. The adults are blinded by unfair and untrue prejudices, and advise their children to keep apart, for how can two people that are different be friends?

They live next door to each other, and each night, Kai visits Gerda in the roof-top garden they created, that bridges the gap between their attic bedrooms, a garden where two different types of rose bloom together in harmony, so delicately intertwined one cannot tell where one bush ends, and another begins. Despite the difference in the appearances of the roses, with their varying colours, proving that things that are different can, not just grow together, but thrive together.

Christina Harris’ Gerda is spirited and determined, her performance alive with an energy and enthusiasm. As she sets out to rescue Kai, Gerda learns some valuable lessons along the way, and her endeavour to see the good in people and to look past appearances is particularly uplifting as she convinces people of their worth, overcoming prejudices as she does so.

Kai sees how people change when they turn 13, when they become an adult, and he does not want to change. Refusing to become weighed down with the stresses, anxieties and prejudices that all-too-often follow adulthood, he is determined to cling fast to his carefree yet mature childishness, that means he is, like Gerda, able to see, and to easily appeal, to the good in people. Tom Sturgess’ Kai is the perfect complement, and the two share a very natural and warming chemistry. Both appeal our inner child, and encourage us to never lose sight of who we are.

Letitia Hector’s icy, cold-hearted Snow Queen rules from her Palace in the Kingdom of Ice. Heartless and merciless, cruel and unforgiving, she kidnaps Kai in a desperate attempt to cling to her power, maintaining the shaking foundations of her magic which are threatened when Kai refuses to change. She does everything she can to sabotage Gerda’s rescue of Kai, employing the help of her goblins to stop her reaching the palace. When Gerda uncovers the secrets of the Snow Queen’s past, however, she must use what she knows to help Kai, and the Snow Queen in the process.

Great support comes from Charlie Keable’s Hader, head goblin, who adopts many disguises in order to stop Gerda reaching the Snow Queen. The laughs come thick and fast as he delights the audience with his wit, charisma, and slapstick movement.

Alexandra Daszewski is Gerda’s big sister Karen, whose transformation into adulthood is not a pretty one, and she quickly turns on Gerda, insulting both her and Kai. She becomes harsh, and much less ‘fun’, proving that adulthood isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.

Amongst the show’s uplifting, catchy songs and its light-hearted humour is a clear and simple message: “We’re all different. And that’s a wonderful thing”.

With a definite emphasis on a sense of ‘otherness’, the show champions a group of ‘others’ –  people who are ostracised from society because of how they look, or where they come from – in its empowering celebration of people who are different, and how, when different people come together, they can be at their strongest. 

‘The Snow Queen’ is fabulous festive fun, an enchanting fairy-tale guaranteed to warm your heart.

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