Birmingham Rep
Opened 9 December, 1997

Raymond Briggs's The Snowman is a modem Christmas classic, and Bill Alexander's revival of his 1993 Birmingham production plainly captivates its young constituency. There is, however, no danger that audience ebullience will drown out the dialogue; apart from a deliberately semi-intelligible carol and the obligatory rendition of "Walking In The Air", the show is wordless for its hour-and-three-quarter duration.

Nevertheless, almost every action by the Snowman (Kasper Cornish) comes to life and draws peals of delight, whether it be trying on the contents of a fruit-bowl as alternative noses or cooling off by sticking his bottom into a fridge. In contrast, an instant of silent awe descends when the Snowman and the Boy who built him (played at-the performance I saw by 11-year-old John Partridge) roar off around the stage on a motorbike and sidecar.

Alexander, composer Howard Blake and choreographer Robert North take joint credit for "story development", and by and large the production knows both how to appeal to children without being condescending or pantomimic, and how to slip in the occasional clever nod to keep the grown-ups onside: when the Boy is channel-surfing on his family television, for instance, we catch a few brief, cheeky seconds of Aled Jones singing That Song.

Really, this is at least as much a dance piece as a theatrical one, and tends to fall into a routine of alternating graceful sequences with novelty episodes. This strategy becomes most apparent after the interval, when the Snowman magically transports the Boy to the North Pole to meet his own clan and Father Christmas: each chunk of, say, comedy break-dancing by a toy robot is preceded or followed by a pas de deux with Cindy Snow-Woman. Once or twice it seems as if the only thing making these scenes wondrous is the fact that all concerned are swathed in acres of cotton wool. (And what are those two penguins doing in the Arctic? Took a wrong turning, I presume, after one can too many of John Smith's...) Nevertheless, it kept the youngsters enraptured.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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