In a very original adaptation of the perennial favourite fable of The Snow Queen; Little Pixie Productions came to Oldham's intimate and welcoming Library Theatre for one performance only before embarking on a small tour and returning to Manchester to play at Hope Mill Theatre between the 12th – 17th December.
This is a three-hander, and all three members of the cast worked excellently together in a mix of dance, mime, physical theatre, but mostly in song - this wasn't really a play at all, but a Musical, since the amount of dialogue was negligible and both plot and emotions were enacted through song.
The set was a square playing area edged with snowflakes, and a curtain to the rear. The interior was filled with many real and antique stage props, from a rocking chair, wicker stool, brass kettle, wooden pale, table etc, and yet on the opposite side of the stage there was the most unrealistic tree imaginable. A cardboard cut-out affair wrapped in pages of a book. Two completely differing designs and ideas which sadly jarred. Ditto all the paper pops that kept appearing... birds, crowns, hair pieces, butterflies etc. Both ideas work, and would work well if they weren't spoiled by the other's presence.
However, on to the acting. Ella Lovelady played Gerda, a girl desperately searching for her friend in the snow-covered wilderness, and meeting all manner of nasty people along the way; whilst her friend, Kay, is played here by Jabez Sykes, and both Lovelady and Sykes ere excellent. Their mannerisms, body language, singing, acting and believability all culminated into making these two characters be the absolute inseparable separated best of friends. Making up the trio was Helena Leonard whose characterisations were perhaps not quite distinct enough from each other, but nevertheless, was a joy to watch as she inhabited the stage. Her singing however was sadly very wrong for this kind of presentation. She is a trained and experienced opera singer, and that much was evident in oodles this afternoon, and if she were acting in Manon or La Traviata then it would have been stunning; she was however, singing 'easy listening' ditties in a touring children's theatre play, and her voice was simply not balanced against the two other voices.
I was enthralled by the presentation. Very tight direction, with every move counting, this was a choreographed and polished product from start to finish. However - I am a 48 year old theatre professional, not a 5 year old child, and this play was advertised as being suitable from age 5 upwards. I made specific point this afternoon of looking at the target audience's reactions throughout the play, and they all started very quietly and listening intently, until one by one they became distracted and bored and by half-way through the first half you had lost every single one of them. They only came back to laugh at the funny physicality of Sykes, or to see what was happening when Leonard was singing coloratura sostenuto. This was a great shame since the piece was indeed worthy of a more appreciative audience. Not only this but the storyline was unclear, and there were far too many characters for three actors to play (this must surely have confused the little ones even more!); and finally the vocabulary used within the play was far too advanced for anyone under 10. Therefore I am sorry to say but the play failed simply because of this.
Even I didn't understand the relevance of the war and men being away; the white bees; nor how or why Jay suddenly had some white light in his eyes and changed his character deciding to leave; and even I became somewhat restless during some of the slower more plaintive songs, of which there were a few. The play didn't even end with an upbeat happy song, but a lullaby where all three fall asleep together.
I shall iterate that I really enjoyed it, and that the acting, especially from Sykes, impressed; but I do not think it was appropriate for your target audience and didn't have that 'magic sparkle' to engage with them the way I have seen other shows for this age group do so very well.
Reviewer: Mark Dee
Reviewed: 26th November 2016
North West End Rating: ★★★