If it’s a modern cultural experience you’re after, watching a show based on a fairytale from 1844 in a theatre established a hundred years previous doesn’t sound too promising. But Tutti Frutti’s production of Mike Kenny’s adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen is about as modern as it gets.
Growing up next door to each other in a tower block, Kai and Gerda are the best of friends. They hang out together on the balcony, watching the traffic pass by and taking pleasure in seeing the roses grow. One day, something happens and Kai is pulled under the magical spell of the Snow Queen. Gerda, realising her friend is in trouble, sets off to find him and set him free. Along the way, she finds herself in some quite extraordinary situations and encountering some very eccentric characters. From a colourful garden to a robber’s den, it’s an adventure with seriously funny diversions. With help from a very endearing reindeer, Gerda tracks Kai down to the Snow Queen’s palace and has to try to get him home. The talented cast of three do the job of many more, bringing a moving and funny script to life with costume changes galore, physical comedy and wonderful original songs.
At its heart, this is a tale of one boy’s struggle to deal with a huge loss and his friend’s attempts to help him through it. Fear not: this is a children’s show and there is a happy ending. But the message is almost that there aren’t any happy endings: nothing lasts forever. And that’s okay because sad times don’t last forever either. If that all sounds rather deep and meaningful, I guess it is, and it made me reflect on things in a way that I wouldn’t expect of a children’s show. Readers often ask us to warn them if there are potentially tricky themes, so here it is: children who struggle with the idea of losing a parent may find the story difficult. But maybe they’ll find it reassuring too.
All of this was lost on our three-year-old, of course, who just took the story at face value; of all the characters, she loved the Snow Queen best of all ‘because she has a really shiny silver coat!’. She laughed at the silly bits and was completely unfazed by any jeopardy or references to grief, just enjoying following Gerda and her adventures. Like all the best fairy tales, Snow Queen doesn’t shy away from the difficult stuff and rewards the audience in spades with a wonderful warm-hearted show fit for an audience of 21st-century children.
Snow Queen runs at York Theatre Royal until Saturday 13th October 2018. Visit yorktheatreroyal.co.uk for information and to book