The Snow Queen, Playbox Theatre, Warwick, until Dec 31
You know you’re in for an interesting night when somebody is carried off in the first few minutes of the first half.
On the opening night of the Snow Queen at Playbox Theatre in Warwick we saw a mother scuttling out of the door carrying out a small screaming child who seemed to be almost horizontal under her arm. Obviously the powerful atmosphere of this Hans Christian Andersen tale had proved to be too much.
This is a real winter's tale with all those familiar themes - the frozen wastes of the far north, the physical hardship of a quest undertaken by a young woman with a pure heart, the wise grandmother and kindly crone and the demons that provide obstacles at every turn. But Toby Quash's script also nods to more modern influences so the adults in the audience will recognise echoes of Narnia and the Wizard of Oz.
The younger members of the audience will identify with the children - Gerda played by Freya Travis and young Kay whose heart is frozen - an excellent performance by Ethan Phillips. In the second half we have Olivia Hass as the older Gerda and Rob Redwood as Grown Up Kay pitted against Eilidh Evans as a beautifully malevolent Snow Queen.
There were some wonderfully comic moments with Kate Jones' clowning and the pageant of the wannabe princes was a delight with Amberquay Halford making the most of her small part as the princess.
Although some of the minor speaking parts were not very clear and the exuberance of the Snowflake and Icicle troupes led to too much shrieking at times, this was a stunning production, an ensemble piece with excellent choreography from Emily Quash.
For me, the most striking features were not individual performances but the physicality of the production. With the choice of music, the use of masks, gesture and drumming and, above all, the elegance and grace and speed of the highly skilled skating troupe the audience was treated to some breathtaking moments.
You might need a warm jumper and a pair of ear muffs to enjoy the piece at its very best. As we are told at the beginning, 'not all stories are gentle stories' and the howling wind, dry ice, monochrome colours and falling snow conveys a northern European kingdom where dreadful deeds are the order of the day.