My first encounter with Raymond Briggs’ enchanting story was the animated film in 1982. Three decades later, I am still captivated by its spell. Somewhere beneath the simplistic tale of a boy who builds a snowman that comes to life lie several strata of possible subtexts: the need for friendship (the boy is an only child), the elusive gift of creativity, the transitory nature of innocence, coming to terms with loss, renewal and the restoration of faith. All this, of course, is adult speculation and deduction. But perhaps its greatest triumph is its unwavering ability to charm. The combination of Howard Blake’s wonderful score - as stuffed with character tropes and adventurous musicality as a plum pudding is with, er, plums - and Briggs’ wonkily bizarre tale gives delight and hurts not. Well, a bit.
The moment when the Boy discovers his ‘friend’ has been reduced to a heap of slush and cries into his battered hat is genuinely upsetting. But that’s OK. Life is hard and there will always be more snow to construct another one.
On a set that looks like a toy version of reality - complete with the anomaly of an electric coal effect fire AND a coal scuttle - the story is played out and danced with vigour. There is an unusual synchronicity and syncopation to the ensemble of Snowmen when they land in the North Pole. During an hilarious tango-based sequence Scotty Snowman gives Jack Frost (who looks like a refugee from Kiss crossed with a villain from a Victorian melodrama) at least one headbutt, much to the delight of the audience. Toys come alive, fruit comes dancing out of a refrigerator and - funniest of all - The Snowman tries on different noses, including a rather suggestive banana.
Beautifully constructed, it is timed to perfection. As the opening bars of Walking in the Air float out of the pit and the Snowman takes the Boy’s hand to rise into the air at the end of the first half, it is a literally uplifting experience.
Call me a flake but I love it.