The Snow Queen

★ ★ ★

The wonderful thing about Oxford’s Creation Theatre is that it never plays things safe. This company always takes risks with its productions; re-envisioning classic stories through a contemporary and sometimes controversial lens.

And so it is with this production of the Snow Queen. Creation Theatre have taken Hans Christian Andersen’s magical tale and retold it for a contemporary audience.  The story tells of two young children, Gerda and Kai, who grow up together and love each other.  A tiny sliver of evil mirror gets stuck in Kai’s eye, distorting everything he sees to ugliness and horror.  One day, Kai disappears, having been taken by the Snow Queen.  Gerda goes on a journey to find him.

Creation Theatre’s Snow Queen has been difficult to review because, with all the production values at the usual high standard, it will come down to personal taste.  While remaining broadly faithful to the original story, Creation Theatre’s show is a fast paced, wordy and frenetic retelling.  Contemporary culture in-jokes abound, with references to Game of Thrones, Sixth Sense, ET, etc.  The characters will often drop out of character to narrate their own story and sometimes, even drop out of all character and discuss staging and characterisation of their characters with their fellow actors.

To me, this meant that the character’s story arc was constantly being interrupted, which gave the narrative a frenetic and choppy feel. Clearly, some in the audience loved this approach and enjoyed identifying the culture references and found the dropping of character very clever.  By contrast, it didn’t chime with others in the audience, who just wanted a traditional, magical Christmas experience.  And yet, the production did contain one of the most magical scenes that I’ve seen in a Christmas production, a snow ball fight with the audience, which was beautifully done, extremely well organised and over far too soon.

I didn’t love this production, but I didn’t hate it either. I would have liked to see the use of silence to give the audience mental space to think about the developing love between Kai and Gerda as children and a much more quiet, restful and peaceful moment to recognise that Kai and Gerda are finally reunited as loving adults.  To me, this would have gone a long way toward redressing an otherwise extremely hectic retelling.

There was one scene that I found a bit disturbing.  On the search for Kai, Gerda comes across a lonely wizard who enchants her into staying with him.  I started to feel very uncomfortable watching the grooming behaviour of this wizard toward the lovely young Gerda.  During this scene, I heard a young teen in the audience whisper, “paedo”. My thoughts precisely.  Yet, fairy stories are rife with the abuse of children and this character, though a sorceress, exists in the original story.

At the end of the show, the people behind my seat said, “I hated that” with passionate intensity.  On the way out, I came across of a group who were commenting on how “absolutely fantastic” the show was.

If you want to stay in your comfort zone with a traditional, magical Christmas production (and there’s nothing wrong with that), then this isn’t the production for you.  If you want to see a fast paced, feverish and sometimes random, contemporary retelling of a classic tale, then you will enjoy Creation Theatre’s The Snow Queen.

Photo credits: Richard Budd.