Express & Star

The Snow Queen at New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme - review

'The power of love can melt the coldest of hearts' is the message at the centre of the New Vic's Snow Queen and I totally, happily fell for it. I loved the show and yes, it touched my heart – even before my planned return with my grandchildren.


Theresa Heskins has exceeded herself with this adaptation of the classic Hans Christian Andersen fairy story. The original remains strongly recognisable in her version -- unlike in the Disney animated film Frozen – but she has skipped, softened and secularised some of the narrative to make a cohesive drama that develops at a perfect pace.

Above all, Heskins has framed the story of young Gerda's journey in search of her friend Kai, kidnapped by the the Snow Queen, in a sympathetic backstory about the Queen herself. This aspect is resolved in a surprising and beautifully enacted climax in which we find, most movingly, that all is not "irreversibly frozen in time".

Instead of a high-glam finale with full cast in a raucous knees-up she gives us a quiet, simple closure that is deeply joyful and life affirming. From beginning to end I felt like I was in a very special place, in a special story.

The Snow Queen. Image by Andrew Billington

It's all about storytelling. Not for Gerda the "Facts, facts, facts!" of her strict schoolmistress (with echoes for me as a school governor of the new primary spelling and grammar curriculum, and the relentless focus on literacy and numeracy). Gerda's is a world of imaginative books with creative pop-up interiors and they inspire her to reject the demands of ice-cold reason and the logic that says Kai has drowned in the crystal lake.

Instead she sets off alone to find him, her determination and persistence seeing her through the enchantment of the flower-filled garden of eternal summer, the dark forest of the violent robbers, and the seductive steely glances of the ice queen herself. It is her faith in him that empowers Kai to solve the puzzle that keeps him bound.

The Snow Queen. Image by Andrew Billington

Heskins is well served by an admirable team of actors (who double as versatile musicians). Newcomer Natasha Davidson brings to the role of Gerda a well-judged balance of youthful naïveté and sense of purpose. Polly Lister's eerily statuesque movement as the Snow Queen made of ice makes you shiver before she even opens her mouth.

Like the musical score, costumes and set design complement the storytelling without taking it over -- from the origami-inspired robin and crow, and pop-up motifs in other props, to the newspaper-print costumes at the court of the clever princess; from the chandeliers and icicles above to the cracking ice below; from the frozen majesty of the Queen to the delicate frost of her accompanying 'crystals' (played by a company of young local dancers).

I suspect my granddaughter will want to wear her Disney-world 'Princess Anna' costume when I take her. But I know too that Gerda and her adventures will win her heart.

by John Hargreaves

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