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Once Upon a Snowflake review at Chelsea Theatre, London – ‘inventive, if convoluted’

Scene from Once Upon a Snowflake at Chelsea Theatre, London. Photo: Paper Balloons Scene from Once Upon a Snowflake at Chelsea Theatre, London. Photo: Paper Balloon

For all its tricks, the most enchanting sequence in this seasonal show from Paper Balloon involves simple hand puppetry with coats and scarfs provided by the audience. It’s a moment of throwaway improvisation, but had the young audience in raptures.

It seems a shame then that the central tale of Once Upon a Snowflake – of a girl who is slowly driven mad by a storytelling Winter Sprite hiding in her ear – is told in such a convoluted way.

The production is impressive, with shadow puppets and loop pedals aplenty. But the use of a framing device involving two Sprite hunters is confusing, especially for very young children.

Nevertheless it’s delivered by an absorbing trio, with Alex Kanefsky and Dorie Kinnear in the central roles and Joseph Hardy providing virtuosic musical accompaniment. And director Maria Litvinova avoids most of the Christmas cliches to serve up something genuinely alternative. The show oozes a kind of folksy charm with a quirky, homespun vibe. Its components are thoughtfully put together, from the Victoriana costumes to Darren Clark’s eclectic score.

But ultimately the multi-layered narrative obstructs its ability to entertain. It feels too knowing, a little – dare I say it – worthy. I saw it with my four year-old and she was clearly struggling to make sense of it all; and to be honest, so was I. There may be much to admire, but it could do with fewer ‘Spriteology’ jokes and more coat puppets.


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Paper Balloon's original if convoluted seasonal family offering