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‘The Snowman’ review

  • Theatre, Children's
  • 3 out of 5 stars
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Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Twenty-five years on, this stage version of Raymond Briggs’s book is a little creaky but still magical

Birmingham Rep’s ballet spin-off of Raymond Briggs’ dreamy Christmas classic is back in London for its twenty-fifth year. Unlike the ageless book and TV animation that inspired it, it’s creaking a little – but it is a classic in its own right, and still inspires rapture in the two-to-eight-year-old target audience and nostalgic sniffles in their middle-aged parents.

It’s billed as ballet, but don’t expect tutus and immaculate technique. Small boys in slippers and snowmen encumbered by large white fatsuits are not the most naturally precise movers. Instead, the cast’s job is to convey the story’s cycle of Christmassy feelings via movement: joy, delight, humour, soaring imagination, merriment, and sad farewell are all writ broad and large in Robert North’s choreography. 

Briggs’ story is padded out to fill one hour and 50 minutes on stage. The first half feels a bit long, despite some very ripe comedy from limbo-ing pineapples and bananas, and dance thrills from a leaping fox, squirrel and badger, trying to avoid becoming roadkill as the snowman chugs his noisy motorbike around the moonlit woods.

Ruari Murchison’s stage design still looks magical – dreamlike oversized interiors in the boy’s home, graceful trees bending over the exterior scenes, all bathed in rippling light by Tim Mitchell like it’s happening inside a kaleidoscope, an evocative nod to the wistful, flickering hand-drawn animation of the TV classic. But the scene changes feel a bit clunky these days, and the adult dancers’ vibes aren't always totally fresh and joyful: at times you sense the weariness of the long-running stage show. 

Howard Blake’s soaring music lifts everything. Though the flying’s not the highlight: that gong goes to part two, the North Pole party scene with a world cup-scale lineup of jigging, waltzing and kung-fuing snowmen from all over the place, competing for Father Christmas’s applause. Bonus material includes a spiky leaping Jack Frost and an ice princess. I found these two a bit of a distraction from the main plot which is about the love between the boy and his snowman, not the snowman’s flirtation with a chilly ballerina, but the frosty extras do at least add some proper ballet moves to the mix. The kids in the noisy eager audience lap it all up, and spontaneously dance in the aisles when snow falls at the end.

A quarter of a century years on, The Snowman is still one of the best shows in London to take a pre-schooler to. It’s shorter and less bloody noisy than panto. The tickets are good value. And, after all these years – it has a kernel of something magical that can transport you to a childlike world of imagination and touch your heart – no matter how old you've become.

Written by
Caroline McGinn

Details

Address:
Price:
£25-£55. Runs 1hr 50min
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