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Review: THE CHILD IN THE SNOW, Wilton's Music Hall

A tonally confused and unengaging project inspired by Elizabeth Gaskell’s Victorian novella.

Review: THE CHILD IN THE SNOW, Wilton's Music Hall

Review: THE CHILD IN THE SNOW, Wilton's Music Hall It doesn't take much for Wilton's Music Hall to be atmospheric. The Victorian building, with its balcony, stripping paint, and heartbreakingly beautiful cast-iron pillars, lends itself very well to Christmas ghost stories. All of this, combined with Tom Piper's ambitious set design and Hayley Egan's overachieving projections, seems like the perfect production for the theatre's festive comeback. Too bad The Child In The Snow is a tonally confused and unengaging project.

Inspired by Elizabeth Gaskell's Victorian novella The Old Nurse's Story, children's novelist Piers Torday migrates the tale to a post-war Britain. Hester Thornthon (Safiyya Ingar) has just come back from the front, where she was a volunteer nurse. She seeks Mrs Lenard (Debbie Chazen) to reach into her past and gain her memory back, as she suffers from severe PTSD. As the medium goes in and out of trance, Hester is transported back to a lonely Christmas in the moors.

Sadly, director Justin Audibert's project is underwhelming at best. The window dressing is stunning, but the execution of the material falls short. While the humour is scathing and probably the best bit of it all as delivered by Cazen, it feels extreme compared to the excessive and boring dramatics of the rest of the show. Ingar doesn't truly succeed in getting her public invested, either. As she steps on stage in a gas mask, surrounded by smoke and eerie lights, her address is very declamatory. Her delivery is nervous, and she only relaxes into the role towards the end, but by then it's too late to make us care.

Chazen holds a collection of peculiar characters in her pocket. From the eccentric, high-pitched spiritualist to the caring, limping housekeeper, they all share a cartoonish and overdone nature. Yet, it's the most compelling element of the performance. Torday's writing is overly literary and lacks the profound Gothic ingredient needed to make it an uncanny narration. It's left to the design department to set it on the right path, but they can't perform miracles.

The visuals are impressive with dark mahogany and warm lamps set against the stark cold given by the digital art on the screens. Projected snow falls relentlessly, broken apart by bold effects that drive the play and only glitch once or twice. The company use the architecture of Wilton's Music Hall to their advantage by expanding the action to the balconies and leaning on the natural ambience of the auditorium.

The original story has somewhat lost its shine in this new retelling. It's certainly wintery and the Hall always manages to have its wow factor, but The Child in the Snow doesn't have the appeal it could.

The Child in the Snow runs at Wilton's Music Hall until 31 December.

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From This Author - Cindy Marcolina

Italian export. Member of the Critics' Circle (Drama). Also a script reader and huge supporter of new work. Twitter: @Cindy_Marcolina

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