Review by Stephen Oliver
REVIEW: Snow Queen at Newcastle Northern Stage
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The Snow Queen
Newcastle Northern Stage
Until Saturday 4th January 2020
Yet again Newcastle’s Northern Stage has put together another fabulous family show that is both engaging and spectacular too.
This is a brand new production, written by Laura Lindow, which feels very different to any other Snow Queen that we’ve witnessed. Set and costume designer Rhys Jarman fully exploits the width of the Hall One stage which, once again extends into Hall Two thanks to the removal of a wall. This gives the action an immense multi level space for director Mark Calvert to bring the story alive. Much of the action runs from side to side.
The feel of the show is really impressive. That wow factor that one gets when you witness the top end West End shows precipitates here too. Sam Vivash’s lighting design isn’t just about putting a spotlight on the star whilst flashing a few lights at the ensemble like some shows. The lighting picks off the desks in the school scenes which then show off shadow art in the lids of the desks. It creates ghostly figures behind mirrored panels, it turns a balcony into a sleigh. Likewise, the sound effects, designed by Nick John Williams, are not dissimilar to cinema surround sound as the noises go around the room – which really intrigued the young person sat in the row in front of us. This is not a team that have been imported into a venue, this is a team that know this venue really well and have really let their imagination go wild.
But a show can be as flashy as it wants to be. If the writing is poor, the action is dull or the characters feeling removed from the audience then the show will fall flat. We, the audience, need to feel connected – to care about the characters and their journey. Thankfully, this year, Northern Stage have created an absolute cracker of the show which doesn’t fall for any of the style over substances issues that have affected over shows.
Central to this success is Lauren Waine as Gerda – who is both our narrator and hero. She befriends Kai (Gregor Mackay) at school in Stifle – a place in which S. N. O. W. spells danger and the head teacher Elsie Orr (Paula Penman) seems to have far more power in town than she should. Gerda and Kai are neighbours that quickly form a friendship despite Kai living with Elsie, who is also his Aunt. They both have dreams: Gerda wants to play a trumpet solo at school and Kai wants to see his parents again. Meanwhile the adults in town are worried, especially Mr Kelpine (Craig Faribairn) who forecasts snow. Indeed, it is when the snow arrives that strange things start to happen.
Paula Penman plays the officious Head really well, not just a two dimensional bad guy – you suspect there is going to more going on than her controlling manner suggests. Likewise it is important that the audience believe in the friendship between Kai and Gerda, Lauren Waine and Gregor Mackay succeed in this important aspect.
The cast is supplemented by 7 ensemble members who have trained at Newcastle College. They are the other children in the cast, the puppetiers and any other group that the story calls for. Their input really adds to the sum of a great show.
The Snow Queen is clearly an important element and the tension builds up to her eventual arrival. Looking stunning but, like Paula Penman’s teacher character, this is a fully formed individual that is also on her own journey. Elizabeth Carter commands the stage as she sweeps on. The clarity of her explanation of the snow’s changes of state will, I’m sure, make her science teacher proud. [Yes, I know! Couldn’t resist it. Sorry!] Elizabeth also gets a chance to show off her singing ability.
Which brings us to the live band perched up on a platform, which centres around composer and musical director Jeremy Bradfield, who also appears in the action as Gerda’s Dad. Many of the cast play a variety of instruments and the songs. The lyrics are written by the writer Laura Lindow and they help the plot along rather than being there in order to just tick a box.
This is another successful Northern Stage Christmas show. We have been watching these shows for many years (long before we started reviewing them) and we agreed that this year’s Snow Queen is really special.
Review by Stephen Oliver
Tickets are still available a https://www.northernstage.co.uk/Event/the-snow-queen or call the box office on 0191 230 5151.