BWW Review: THE SNOW QUEEN, Royal and Derngate, Nov 27 2015
It's panto season at Royal and Derngate in Northampton! Oh no it isn't! Oh yes it is! And they have two! Oh no they don't! Oh No. I can't. I'm sorry. But yes, because Royal and Derngate has two houses, they put on two pantomimes each year - the celebrity extravaganza in the Derngate doesn't start until mid-December, but in the smaller Royal, the traditional panto is up and running.
The Royal has a tendency to pick a slightly less mainstream story (past years include A Christmas Carol and Wind in the Willows) and time it's THE SNOW QUEEN. And I thought it was a great choice - firstly because of all those children who are really into Frozen at the moment and secondly because you can mess around with the story a bit more than you can with Dick Whittington or Peter Pan. And that allows them to include a punky Robber Girl, a Not-So-Happily-Ever-After fairy-tale couple and a camp Russian-ish reindeer who came close to stealing the show.
There isn't any call and response (or at least there wasn't on press night so if there was meant to be, they need to make the cues more obvious), but there are loads of laughs, including the obligatory jokes about selfies and Twitter, which run the risk of coming across as #solastyear but actually went down a storm. The set is fairly minimalist, but in combination with the lighting and sound effects it was really effective - particularly as the Snow Queen's palace.
Being a cynical old hack and thus no longer a child, I borrowed 10-year-old Grace for the evening to see how it worked for the target market. She laughed in all the right places, never got the fidgets and at the interval she'd got the plot - and where it was going nailed. After the show, she told me that her favourite character was the Reindeer (beating out Robber Girl who was her favourite at the half-way point), she liked the songs, the selfie joke, the fibre-optic-style lights at the Snow Queen's palace and that it was really funny. In fact, there was nothing really that she didn't like and she said it was never too sad or too scary, but it was a bit loud in places.
We both thought that it might be a bit too much for the under-6s, but I can confirm on press night, we didn't hear any children crying because of the baddie! The seven cast members do a great job of playing considerably more than seven characters (and Grace said she didn't notice there was any doubling up until the curtain call) along with singing and dancing and generally looking like they were having an absolute ball. Caroline Head is deliciously campy and overblown as the Snow Queen and Tosin Olomowewe's sarcastic and antagonistic Raven makes sure nothing gets too saccharine. The script is smart and packed with word-play jokes that work for the whole family and once we got past their firsts scene I stopped noticing that the two children, Kai and Gerda, were most definitely played by grown-ups.
Grace said that she'd go again if she got the chance, and I think that that might be the biggest recommendation for a panto. If given a choice between this and some of the celebrity-offerings I've seen over the years, I'd take The Snow Queen hands down. It's funny and not smutty and doesn't rely on jokes about bodily functions to get laughs. There's a moral about friendship, but it's not shoved down your throat and it snows at the end. What more do you want at Christmas-time?