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Jamie Tabberer


Theatre review

The Snowman @ the Peacock Theatre


Respect where it's due, the producers of this annual festive outing must have a tough job on their hands year in, year out with this. Commendably, in their take on The Snowman, they stay painstakingly faithful to Raymond Briggs 1978 children's book and the subsequent Academy Award-nominated film adaptation. Full marks for that. But in eking out a story that takes all of 20 minutes to tell (a little boy’s snowman comes to life, they go for a fly, they return home, snowman promptly melts) to twice that length, they’re left with another 40 or more to fill; not with dialogue (the book and the film were wordless) or therefore much more of a story, but with, well, a lot of mindless banality. Mindless banality that kids will love but adults will either struggle to engage with or find hilariously funny if they can locate their inner-stoner. Or perhaps my memory escapes me; perhaps there was a dancing pineapple in the film version. *Makes a note of that*

Liberties are taken, but in keeping with what makes The Snowman special, they’re understated enough to pass by without being too annoying, and the sound of children’s laughter and wonder (or crying and screaming; this is a kids’ show so don’t complain about the inevitable) is always a sweetener.

Being a wordless story the cast are obviously under increased pressure to communicate through movement and dance. In the case of the former they excel, particularly the children with their exaggerated walking when pretending to wade through heavy snow, completely free of self-consciousness in a childish way, to the magnetic warmth and silliness of our titular protagonist; he moves slowly and bouncily, when he falls it's as if it's in slow motion, and he tumbles effortlessly as if he’s made of cotton wool. The costumes are spot on, by the way; and this is surely no mean feat in the case of the snowman himself who could just as easily turned out looking rather like the antagonist in a Christmas-themed horror film.

Indeed, where this production truly shines is in its recreation of what’s concrete about the tale; it’s not just the costumes that are visually triumphant but also the slightly bizarre set (the family home looks like it’s made of giant, pale-coloured marshmallows) and later, the almost acidic but beautiful use of colour and light to recall images of the Northern Lights or falling snow.

The climactic moment, when the two friends take flight to the sound of Howard Blake’s haunting Walking in the Air, is heart-stoppingly effective for something so simplistic. During the interval, in the foyer, I overheard some mums say that during a recent performance, during the money shot, one of the zip wires failed to work and boy and snowman had no choice but to walk around the stage waving their arms around, which must have sucked. I dare say each show’s success is dependent on this crucial moment which makes me wonder whether it was really as good as I think it was. The intensity of the final few moments is severely glossed over, which is another gripe of mine. But ultimately, when you walk away smiling and feeling like a kid again again, instead of patronised and completely over stimulated as with everything else designed for the modern child, why question it?

4/5

Peacock Theatre
Portugal Street,
Holborn,
WC2

Until 8 Jan 2012

www.sadlerswells.com/show/The-Snowman-2011


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