REVIEW: The Snow Queen, The Round, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, receiving anything but frosty receptions until December 31. Box office: sjt.uk.com *****
HELL would have had to freeze over before the ever-resilient Stephen Joseph Theatre gave up on presenting a Christmas show in Covid-quashed 2020.
Nick Lane, audacious inventor of winter wonderlands at the SJT since 2016, had been writing a five-hander version in the manner of past hits Pinocchio, A (Scarborough) Christmas Carol and Alice In Wonderland.
“Nick, could you change it to a one-hander,” asked SJT artistic director Paul Robinson, his regular partner in “sublime not-pantomime” shows for the child in all of us.
“Polly, could you do it as a solo show,” Robinson asked Polly Lister, so memorably “hyper, needy, overbearing, but funny and vulnerable” as Mari Hoff in The Rise And Fall Of Little Voice and “sporty and no-nonsense” as lesbian Di in Di And Viv And Rose in the SJT’s 2017 summer season.
Yes, said Polly, who now would be playing multitudinous characters – a Goth raven poet and a grumpy Brummie deer among them – rather than merely the icy blast of the Snow Queen.
On board once more too are SJT artistic associate Simon Slater, Scarborough-born composer, lyricist and sound designer; video and lighting wizard Paul Steer; movement and puppetry director Gemma Fairlie and Helen Coyston, the designer for A (Scarborough) Christmas Carol, who decides everything should go with a swing in The Snow Queen.
Oh, and with a garden shed, bin, fencing, log, boxes, bench, and wonky wooden wheelbarrow; a video screen; a suspended branch and more besides in a circular design that retains the feel of the Round, albeit with the socially distanced, Covid-secure audience in three banks of seating, rather than the usual four.
For a familiar yet re-booted Hans Christian Andersen story that will “end in grief or glory”, our narrator – in striped leggings, gown and Steampunk glasses, coupled with a genial, garden-enthusiast, bonkers boffin manner – is the “silly Sorceress”, whose “problem sister” happens to be the titular ice block to Christmas joy.
Seamlessly, the ever-fantastical Lane introduces best friends Gerda and Kai, initially in puppet form on the swing, but of course polymath Polly adds them to her ever-expanding list of roles, adjusting body shape and expression, as well as voice, at every turn.
Best friends Gerda and Kai do what children do, sharing jokes, games and stories, especially tales of the mysterious Lady in the Sky with her faraway Palace Of Ice, but is she fantasy or reality? When Kai disappears from his Gran’s house in Scarborough, his eye and heart pierced by an icicle, Gerda knows the Snow Queen is no fake-news fable as she vows to rescue him.
A journey to a “world of weirdness and wonderment, known as the Other Scarborough” ensues as Lane lets his imagination off the leash again. We expect poo, wind and booby references from Nick, long attuned to what makes “children of Scarborough” laugh, and yes, he cannot resist once more, and nor should he.
This time, he conjures a raven who writes poo-ems in a typical cheeky Lane invention, and daftness takes the form of a huge travelling trunk that springs open to reveal a French DJ called Jean Claude, who happens to be a puppet hedgehog with prickly ego and attitude, downing tools until a certain popular foodstuff is delivered from the Golden Arches.
Then add the doleful reindeer, a bunch of talking flowers and unwise words from wisewomen, all topped off by Lister’s terrific haughty-and-ice Snow Queen and a glorious video send-up of influencer bloggers with hashtags by the dozen.
Storyteller, puppeteer, singer, woman of so many voices, humorous but scary, daft but caring, playful yet serious, what a performance director Robinson elicits from Lister, who makes a one-woman show the perfect way to experience The Snow Queen in these restricted times.
Slater’s witty, potent and dramatic songs, his way with both a tune and a lyric, are a delight too in a show sure to banish the Christmas 2020 blues with a sense of the ridiculous and the need to escape, to laugh, to be transported to another world: the other Scarborough for Scarborough and beyond to enjoy while we must endure the Covid Grinch.
SJT rules on Covid guidance for attendance:
1.You can’t visit with anyone who you don’t live with, or who isn’t part of your support bubble.
2. SJT, Scarborough, is in a Tier 2 area, so if you live in a Tier 3 area, don’t come.
3. Face coverings are mandatory throughout the building (unless exempt – this includes under 11s), except when eating or drinking.
December 21 to 23, 1pm, 7pm; December 24, 1pm; December 24, 1pm; December 26, 6pm; December 27, 1pm; December 29, December 30, 1pm, 7pm; December 31, 1pm.
Age guidance: Five and upwards
Running time: One hour 45 minutes, including interval
Cast: Polly Lister or her alternate, Jacoba Williams, whose remaining performances will be on December 26, 6pm, and Decembger 27, 1pm.
TICKETS UPDATE 22/12/2020, 8am
All performances were sold out but now some returns have become available. Go to sjt.uk.com/booking?id=1015 for more details.
A BRAND new film of the SJT’s Christmas show, The Snow Queen, is available to rent from now until midnight on January 31. Tickets cost £12 and allow online access for a week at sjt.uk.com/SJTathome.