Theatre Review: The Snow Queen @ Bristol Old Vic 

by Polly Hember


The icy tale of The Snow Queen is brought to life in a snowy whirlwind of music, witty writing and quirky characters that manages to melt even the coldest of hearts this Christmas at Bristol Old Vic.

Hans Christian Anderson’s original folkloric tale of The Snow Queen is a fascinating, otherworldly coming-of-age story where innocence, friendship and love triumph over evil  – writer Vivienne Franzmann has captured the magic of the fairy tale and succeeded in creating a truly heart-warming and impressively modern fairy tale.

Best friends Gerda (Emily Burnett) and Kai (Steven Roberts) grow up in the Village of the Yellow Roses, surrounded by love, laughter and song. However, when disobedient children start disappearing and a frosty chill descends over the land, the ferocious legend of the malevolent Snow Queen (the spectacular Gwyneth Herbert) and her plan to freeze the world becomes a disastrous reality. When she manages to steal Kai away, timid Gerda forces herself to embark on a wild adventure to save her beloved friend. 

The narrative is rich with hilarious characters who help Gerda on her way; the fabulous Flower Witch (Game of Thrones’ Miltos Yerolemou) and his cohort of roses and a sardonic parrot; political activists Mighty Magpie and her wife Olive the Owl who Gerda helps challenge the autocratic Duke and Duchess and their hold over all the woodland creatures; the fiery Robber Girl (Jessica Hayles) and the hilariously melancholic reindeer Anton. Meanwhile the motley Goblin Army pander to the terrifying Snow Queen. Peppered with unique and whimsical characters, bursting with songs (some delightfully cheesy, some genuinely stirring) and spurred forth by the fantastic staging and production, The Snow Queen is a triumph.

Tom Rogers staging design was fantastic. For a set designer, Gerda’s adventure is truly demanding – she travels from villages to a washed up beach, to castles, to an icy fortress meeting minotaurs, goblins and more. The production was cleverly orchestrated with rich set design and clever lighting and shadow play to bring the story to life. Brilliant puppeteering allowed the wicked Snow Queen to tower over the actors and terrify any children in the audience. Any discomfort or fright was gleefully balanced out by the hilarious characters; the duo Boffin Goblin (Joanna Holden) and her dim apprentice (Dylan Wood) were particularly funny and elicited countless laughs from the audience.

Underneath the epic quest narrative, the laughter and song – Franzmann has managed to unearth a truly heart-warming and critically meaningful sentiments at the centre of this fairy tale. There was a notable lack of fixed gender roles and a total rejection of heteronormative futuristic narratives throughout the play. She resists the stereotypical happily-ever-after fairy-tale temptation for Gerda and Kai to fall in love. Instead she focuses wholly on their beautiful and nurturing friendship that allows a liberating celebration of the uniqueness and diversity of the characters. Kai ends up part of a cabaret duo with the fabulous Flower Witch, whilst Gerda ends up with the Robber Girl. LGBT narratives and characters are incorporated throughout whilst a strong sense of female empowerment drives the story onwards, challenging the traditional notion of the archaic damsel in distress requiring a dramatic rescue mission – instead Gerda’s bravery and virtue saves the day. This results in a refreshingly transgressive fairy tale that cherishes friendship and integrity, celebrating the best aspects of human nature.

The Snow Queen will bring a smile to any face and warm any heart; children and adults will love this fantastic production alike. Bubbling with unabashed laughter, brilliant staging and an uplifting story of friendship, love and growing up – The Snow Queen is a brilliant Christmas outing for the whole family. Book your tickets now!

When 2nd December – 15th January
Time 7pm, 4pm, 2pm
Where Bristol Old Vic
Prices £34 - £9.50 (plus booking fee)
Ages 7+
Running Time 2 hours and 20 minutes (with interval)


Image Credit Mark Douet 

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