Guest author Matthew Paluch sees the 25th London Season of The Snowman in London
|Venue||The Peacock Theatre, London|
|Date||20 November 2022|
The Snowman. It means youth to so many, and that’s definitely the case for me. The 25th London Season at the Peacock Theatre of the stage version is dedicated to its creator, Raymond Briggs, who died over the summer. 25 years, I’m sure, of mostly sold-out seasons, which says something about the impact of his original 1978 picture book and the film directed by Dianne Jackson, and their ongoing adoration.
We’re promised “colourful sets and extravagant costumes, exuberant dancing and a heart-warming story” – no pressure then!
The director is Bill Alexander, with music (a live heavy-on-the-keyboards-and-synth-vibe orchestra) and lyrics by Howard Blake. Designs are by Ruari Murchison, lighting by Tim Mitchell, and choreography by Robert North – though four assistant choreographers are listed in the creative team biographies.
I know some of North’s work, which tends to be very danceable, and musical choreography, so The Snowman is in capable choreographic hands (x10?).
Long story short – if you’re three years old this show is going to work much more for you than if you’re 43. The Sunday matinee was packed. Families central. It was lovely to see.
The first half is a little flat. It doesn’t feel like a fully realised exploration of the storybook but reads more like elongated mime, or a livestream (sound off) of any street in suburban England, rather than a fleshed-out dance and theatre show. But of course, we meet The Snowman regardless, which is a little horror movie-esque before his face is applied!
Highlights of the first act include the kitchen scene where we see a tropical conga and limbo take place, involving a pineapple, a shimmying coconut, and a banana in shades. Surreal but bizarrely entertaining, though you have to ask yourself why. And the motorbike moment which features animals running for their lives, for fear of sounding too bloodthirsty. The hare, fox, squirrel and badger work well visually, though I couldn’t help reflecting on what Frederick Ashton did with The Tales of Beatrix Potter – the same wasn’t happening here. This felt like humans in animal costumes – nothing more profound.
Lowlights are the terrible wigs of the townspeople and the minimum effort into creating ageing makeup – both need addressing ASAP.
The first half closed, and the second half opened with the infamous Walking in the Air moment. We almost missed it as our young neighbour needed the loo! But off they flew. I was quietly in pieces. The music is so powerful and yes, I could see the wires, but it didn’t matter – I was transported to that warm place of comforting, distant memories.
The second half packed more punch. Here we meet the international Snowmen, which felt a bit dated with Kung-fu and Tommy Cooper via Turkey representations, but for no real choreographic or narrative reason, though a bigger cast allowed for a bigger number. I assume North offered a square dance approach: easy, natural movement which wouldn’t look out of place at a local fête. Very accessible. We also met the Ice Princess, who I don’t remember from the original story. She and The Snowman had a pas de deux which held no surprises but surely did the job for the youngsters. I had some concerns over the quality of pointe work and classical line.
A further addition was Jack Frost, whose presence was felt through foreboding distant shadows before his actual arrival… and what an entrance! Mega makeup, lamé for days, and some Vegas-style, jazz-infused tasteful whacking by Jack Parry! Next came an angsty pas de trois between The Snowman, Ice Princess, and Jack Frost. To me it felt taken directly out of Swan Lake – think Siegfried, Odette and Von Rothbart at the end of Act 2. But in truth… how many stories are there to tell? Most tend to be good versus evil and there’s often a damsel in distress somewhere, but do we need this default, patriarchal storytelling anymore without purposeful narrative content? Do impressionable children benefit? And they’re also probably asking. “Why did the Ice Princess keep sticking her tongue out?” A very pertinent question.
Other performances to note were Samantha Rudolfo as an elegant, proficiently executed Music Box Ballerina, Isaac Bird as the Boy who was natural, confident and full of subtle character, and Martin Fenton as The Snowman who didn’t drop his physical characterisation once, which is both impressive and much needed.
I’d like to commission a rigorous analysis of how much of the current production is the original North choreography. Its imperative works stay alive, and they need to be performed in order to do so. But 25 years is a long time – was the work notated during the creation? Or are the assistants working from video, or are different individuals setting the work each year? Have there been official production updates? The publicity expressly says choreography by Robert North and so I’m sure there are still royalties flying around… but I’m sending in the forensic team.
If you’re a three-year-old reading this – go. And if you’re a parent, take your family. But I’d also suggest checking ticket availability for The Nutcracker at the Royal Opera House. It’s Christmas after all – treat yourself.