Still walking tall through the air

The Snowman

Birmingham Rep

****

THE Snowman first flew and melted hearts, and then, sadly, just melted, at Birmingham Rep some 20 Christmases ago and two decades and a change of century on it has lost none of its charm or innocence.

There is nothing to frighten the horses or shock a maiden aunt and it remains a marvelous introduction for toddlers to the magic of theatre with everything from dance and mime to ballet covered.

As adults we can all see the hint of the secret of flight but for children who have no knowledge of flying harnesses and the hidden secrets of the flies, the snowman and boy taking to the air in real life is an enchanted moment no mere cartoon on TV can match. This is real flying.

Raymond Briggs story is simple. A little boy builds a snowman and when everyone is asleep goes downstairs to make sure his snowman is all right only to find he has come alive and the pair set off on an adventure to the North Pole before returning home.

The next morning though is warm and sunny and the boy’s best friend, the Snowman, has melted . . . except there is hope as it starts to snow again with the promise of another snowman and another adventure.

Martin Fenton and this performance, Edward Stevens share the arduous role of snowman  – dancing in a snowman costume containing a mile of white net, under stage lights and amid the warmth of a full house could hardly be described as cool and refreshing, despite being at the North Pole.

While Archie Durrant, Charlie Salsen and, in this performance, Joe Sheriden share the role of the boy.

And Joe gives it plenty of enthusiastic wellie as he stamps through the imaginary snow. As for the Snowman’s dancing . . . difficult to say – try doing ballet in a duffle coat and moon boots and see how it feels. Just moving around deserves some credit yet his dance with the Ice Princess, Soonja Lee, was a rather touching pas de deux, a sort of arctic beauty and the beast.

She was the second ballerina with the first, from a music box, Megan King, with both no doubt delighting little girls in the audience.

Singing, or at least dancing in the snow . . . The Snowman and the Ice Princess

Little boys would perhaps be more impressed by cowboy snowmen or Jack Frost, danced by Paul Farrell, who was a spiky addition to the Brigg‘s original. Old Jack has his eyes upon the Ice Princess until the Scotty Snowman delivers which is colloquially known as a Glasgow kiss . . . Jimmy which dampens his ardour, and flattens his nose, somewhat.

The stage production with additional music and lyrics by Howard Blake, who wrote the music for the film, choreographed by Robert North and directed by Bill Alexander, also introduces a few more characters, including limbo dancing pineapple, coconut and banana who appear from a fridge.

There is also another difference in that instead of a boy soprano singing, the haunting Walking in the Air is sung, quite beautifully by Susan Monnox.

A mention to for the five piece orchestra under musical director David Quigley on keyboard who sounded much fuller and larger than their number. A live band really does add an extra dimension to any show.

The end leaves us with the melted snowman but before the tears appear there is that magical moment when it starts to snow and the magic is doubled, or should be, when its snows upon the audience.

Sadly on Sunday afternoon whether because of cutbacks or malfunction the expected blizzard to warm cockles of young hearts was restricted to a few sprinkles to the far left and right of the auditorium with the vast tract of the centre left in the imaginary sunshine that had melted the snowman.

Mind you my grandson of 31 months seemed to enjoy every moment although he was quite concerned at the blackouts for scene changes, of which there are quite a few in the first act, complaining, somewhat indignantly, that he wanted to see what was going on.

 But he did give his seal of approval at the end: after having seen The Snowman and The Snowman and The Snowdog as a double header on TV he declared, as everyone started to leave, that he would stay to watch the snowdog if that was all right, thank you. And you can’t get a better recommendation that that. To 18-01-14.

Roger Clarke 

And a dad drifting in from the side . . .

The Snowman is the quintessential Christmas cartoon for children thus as a parent it presents a fairly sizable risk for a theatre trip with a little one; will the Rep do it justice.

The show couldn’t be in safer hands as the Rep created the show in 1993, alongside original composer Howard Blake.

My two and half year old enjoyed every minute.

The Snowman moves along briskly and has a good score and a decent dose of flying snowmen.

It’s not too scary for little ones and not too patronising for older ones and ‘the boy’ does a good job of showing the love between a child and his snowman - though for all the costumes on display it is a shame that they couldn’t have stretched to a ginger wig for him - the kids may not have cared but this big kid did.

Overall if your children like the snowman they’ll love this and at one hour 40 minutes including interval it’s just the right length to prevent them getting fidgety.

As a parent though, the only black mark against the Rep is the finale. It’s difficult to explain to the children in the centre seats why there is snow falling on to the children to the left of them and on to the children to the right of them but not on them. Snow for all or snow for none!!!

Apart from that a good show for young and old.

Theo Clarke 

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