THE SNOW QUEEN by Stuart Paterson. Chester Gateway to 12 January.


by Stuart Paterson

Gateway Theatre To 12 January 2002
Runs 2hr 15min One interval

TICKETS 01244 340392
Review Timothy Ramsden 4 January

A sparkling, beautifully designed production of this fine Christmas play with an outstanding central performance.As water’s apt to freeze over come winter, it’s fitting this Chester Christmas show should be mounted by a team from Keswick’s Theatre by the Lake. Paterson’s drama is seasonal in more than one sense, offering an elemental battle between the sun god Bhima (good name – say it aloud) and the icy monarch who needs only one cruel child to seal her control of the world and bring about a perpetual ice age.

With her comically nasty agent Cobweb Spider (Garry Crystal revolting yet purposively sympathetic at times), the refrigerated royal picks on Kay, ‘the boy the sea gave to the shore’, an orphan yet loved by his adoptive Grandmother ( Sally Sheridan, all fussy and cosy in the first of several expertly comic characterisations) and by young Gerda. The two children cover their affection by a combative quality that’s true brother/sister.

This remains Paterson’s most profound and satisfying play. Its implications include the nature of good and evil, the life-cycle and adults’ treatment of children. Yet it’s all handled with a light mix of adventure, comedy and chances for the audience to be rude to various adult characters.

At its heart is Gerda, admirably played by Eve Robertson. Kay might be the budding intellectual, but she’s the sensible one. Robertson plays her as an earthy, unselfconscious girl, in contrast to the self-absorbed Kay. Her qualities emerge as she takes resolutely to the road to rescue him, facing up to the first major challenge of her life.

And her strength’s the greater for her admissions of its limits. Robertson clearly shows a nervous system near break-down and identifies the point when going on seems pointless: it’s a sudden stop on the escape from a hostile palace. Even the toughest suffer inside and the performance brilliantly charts the path to the tears of despair that finally release Kay from his iceberg prison.

Director Stefan Escreet clearly has the play’s considerable measure, balancing the terrifying and the comic, though there are moments which might benefit from tighter focus or more comic detail. Martin Johns’ designs are terrific, his deliberately two-dimensional scenery taking on colder colours as Gerda ventures northwards after her friend. Johns deploys a huge disc rear-stage, to become both sun and the magic mirror which splinters to send ice fragments into Kay’s heart and eye. This disc also projects a sinister vertiginous castle – a very old pile – surrounded by snow. Finally, it adds suitably to the joy when the once-imprisoned ice-children are glimpsed as dancing shadows through its screen.

Cobweb Spider: Garry Crystal
Kay/King Grin/Twitch: Howard Gossington
Scruff/Muscles/Reindeer: Dennis Herdman
Gerda: Eve Robertson
Princess/Redhead/Piece: Erica Rogers
Prince/Nico/Sioft Polar Bear: Daniel Settatree
Grandma/Robber Woman/Peck: Sally Sheridan
Bhims/Tough Polar Bear: Gary Stoner
Snow Queen: Susan Twist
Children: Michael Dore, Thomas Kelsall, Emily Easton, Lauren Cain/Tyler Adams, Sam Steggall, Georgina Gardener, Amber Spillsbury

Director: Stefan Escreet
Designer: Martin Johns
Lighting: Nick Beadle
Sound: Paul Bunn
Movement: Lorelei Lynn
Composer: Simeon Truby
Musical Director: Carol Donaldson

2002-01-09 12:16:15

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