Review: The Snow Queen, Bristol Old Vic

12th December 2016

Image: Mark Douet

While Bristol Hippodrome offers classic panto fare with Cinderella and the Wardrobe Theatre an anti-Christmas show in Rocky: A Horror Show, Bristol Old Vic sticks to it’s classy festive guns by putting on an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen. Following on from previous Christmas hits like last year’s Sleeping Beauty, the show aims to produce a family-friendly heartwarming winter tale while sidestepping the cheesiness that can plague less-nuanced Christmas plays.

The story is a promising one. The wicked Snow Queen is kidnapping children and feasting on their negative thoughts – their annoyance at their parents and having to clean their rooms. The final child to be whisked away is Kai (Steven Roberts), so his bestie Gerda (Emily Burnett) sets off on an adventure to save him. On the way she encounters highway robbers, revolutionary animals and an extravagantly camp Flower Witch (Miltos Yerolemou).

Image: Mark Douet

There are some neat touches to the show. Joanna Holden provides impish charm as Dr Boffin Goblin, the evil scientist in charge of the Snow Queen’s evil project. Dylan Wood performs an excellent song in the style of Morissey as a miserable reindeer. Gwyneth Herbert is superb as the voice of the Snow Queen, who is steered as a maniacal and quite incredible giant puppet. Bravely for a Christmas family show, trans issues are brought to the fore in a reasonably serious manner through the cross-dressing Kai and Flower Witch.

It is a shame, then, that the neat moments fail to add up to anything significant, and subsequently the show feels entirely underpowered. For a play with an expansive set, there is little touch of winter, and there is a lack of magic and enchantment. The writing doesn’t have enough zip, and it feels like the actors know it. It is an enjoyable enough show, with some good moments, but sadly The Snow Queen doesn’t quite hit the high points of previous Bristol Old Vic Christmas shows.

Conal Dougan