Birmingham Rep’s adaptation of The Snowman is now 25 years old. Rod Dungate takes a look at its stage origins.

Birmingham and London

The Birmingham Rep production of Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman is now 25 years old. ReviewsGate Editor, Rod Dungate, speaks about the show and the original production.

Birmingham Rep’s stage adaptation of Raymond Briggs’ beautiful story The Snowman returns to Birmingham Rep in January 2019. And is celebrating 25 years of enthralling children and adults alike. A remarkable achievement.

I reviewed the original in 1993 for Plays and Players – here are a few facts, and some personal memories.

Raymond Briggs’ story of a young boy’s adventures with a snowman quickly became a favourite with everyone who read it. It reached an even bigger audience when transferred to film for television – with its song I’m Flying Through the Air.

Bill Alexander (then Artistic Director of Birmingham Rep) commissioned a stage version – with an inspired decision that the story should be told through dance, mime and music. Robert North choreographed the original, and beautiful designs were from Ruari Murchison. Bill Alexander directed. Since that ground-breaking first production The Snowman has been performed virtually every year, has been seen around the world, and has recently found a seasonal home at The Peacock in London. Over the years there have been many Snowmen, and among them, Drew McOnie; he credits Snowman with helping launch his career, which now includes the choreography on many major stage productions of leading shows.

The original creative team (North, Alexander, Murchison) still keep in regular touch with each new show – it is kept true to its origins.

I remember the first time seeing the show; a little bit of childhood still lingers in me (and I was far from childhood in 1993). For the review, I interviewed a six year old boy – effectively enabling him to review it.

At the time of the original, Bill Alexander, remarked to me that one of the advantages of the dance-mime-music format is. ‘The children can talk to their mums and dads about it, without disturbing anyone.’ I have seen the show several times, and sometimes children comment as it goes along – but it is noticeable, that their talk is always show focused. It is never idle chat.

At that first press performance, I passed a Rep Associate Director as I moved into my seat. This was Gwenda Hughes, who went on to run the New Vic at Stoke. Gwenda Hughes is a pheonimal director in her own right. She commented, insightfully, as I passed: ‘This show is all about death, but the children don’t know it.’

Gwenda Hughes understands children in a deep way – her own children’s shows are brilliantly observed. Her comment was interesting as later I was asking my young reviewer about the red scarf left behind (and which from memory does not appear in the book.) My reviewer said: ‘It’s to remind the boy of all the wonderful things that happened. It’s like when my cat Ajaz died – we’ve got all the photos to remind us of him’ Here was a child who certainly understood what The Snowman was, in part, about. My young reviewer is now an adult, of course. He has his degree and is doing wonderful things in development in Aftrica; I wonder if he ever thinks about that first viewing of The Snowman?

We shall be reviewing the production on ReviewsGate when it returns to the Rep on 16 January. And the show is performing at The Peacock in London till 6 January.

The Snowman is running:

The Peacock, London till 6 January

BO: 020 7863 8222

Birmingham Rep 16 – 26 January

Birmingham Rep BO: 0121 236 4455


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