Polka Theatre, London – until 4 February 2018
The idea of four modern-ish children improvising a story is not particularly original but it works splendidly in Mike Kenny’s adapatation of The Snow Queen for a cast of four. From the moment you see Nettie Scriven’s evocative opening set – an attic with peeling, faded wallpaper and filmy white dustsheets covering interesting shapes and rippling in the breeze – you know you’re in for a treat. Seven episodes are acted out as Gerda sets out on her quest with all the attic clutter used by the children as they take different parts. Thus we get lampshades for hats, a velvet curtain for a cloak, parasols for wheels and a hobby horse to pull a coach. And it’s all accompanied by accessible, appropriate music by the ubiquitous Julian Butler – I suppose it is possible to stage a children’s show without his fine work but I don’t seem to see many.
Isabelle Chiam delights as innocent but brave Gerda, determined to find and rescue Kai. She comes from Singapore and this is her first main stage show in the UK. I’m sure we shall see more of her. She has presence and charm without ever seeming excessive. It’s a warm, well judged and directed (by Roman Stefanski) performance.
Everyone else plays multiple roles. Sam Hoye is especially memorable as the child who doesn’t want to play all the old lady parts but does and is very funny. His flapping, carking, saucy crow is fun too. Tigger Blaise creates some enjoyable characters including a not-very-scary Robber Queen and a proper queen in a scarlet plaits wig. And George Wigzell is strong as the lost, kidnapped Kai. His reindeer is good value too.
Having failed, as usual, to organise any of my “own” children to take to this rather lovely show, I was nonetheless pleased to notice almost 100 per cent audience engagement and very little fidgeting or muttering from dozens of children out for a Sunday afternoon family treat. The boy next to me, who told me was six, and the girl, 4, behind us he struck up a conversation with, were both utterly engrossed throughout which is fine testament. Highlights which really grabbed them included some nifty shadow puppetry with wrap-round sound effects, the use of projection to evoke the breaking of the mirror and the arrival of the presence of the Snow Queen just before the end which is quite a theatrical moment.