Working in tandem with Scottish writers and composers of contemporary musical theatre Noisemaker (Scott Gilmour and Claire McKenzie), Dundee Rep Ensemble and its artistic director Andrew Panton have created a seasonal show of impressive breadth. It recreates the epic splendour of a Disney movie with striking technical verve, yet still speaks to some of the most urgent issues of the day.
Chiara Sparkes is the wide-eyed but courageous young Gerda, hero of Noisemaker’s canny Hans Christian Andersen adaptation, who sets out to rescue her friend Kai (Ross Baxter) when he is enchanted by the evil Snow Queen and spirited away through the blizzard which keeps their village in eternal winter.
Sophie Reid’s Snow Queen s a sophisticated panto villain whose performance bears more than a hint of Kate Bush, while Gerda is accompanied on her quest by David Delve’s bold but hapless knight Sir Jeffrey, Danielle Jam’s brave thief-turned-adventurer Hallie, and puppeteer/performer Ewan Donald’s wisecracking feathered guide Crow.
The show is a particular triumph for the synergy between its technical, design and musical elements, with a series of moving, curtained screens and Lewis Den Hertog’s full-stage video projections giving the impression that the cast are set within an animation, buffeted back and forth by blizzards, avalanches and the magic of the Queen. The experience is genuinely action-packed and exciting.
Yet it’s in the subtler contemporary elements that the play feels truly fresh and of its time. Gerda is a fiery hero, and her story scores high on the Bechdel test, while the roots of her town’s evil enchantment – that an older generation became collectively complacent and greedy, wreaking havoc upon the future – bears very strong resonances today.