Northern Stage’s new adaptation of the classic tale The Snow Queen is performed with charm, wittily scripted and beautifully designed – but falls short of being truly magical.
An engaging Lauren Waine is schoolgirl Gerda, a resident of Stifle, where petty rules are paramount and wishing is forbidden. When newcomer Kai (Gregor Mackay) comes to town, the two become fast friends. But when Kai, chafing at the town’s restrictions, indulges in some wish-fuelled recklessness, he draws the attention of the Snow Queen (a suitably glacial Elizabeth Carter) and Gerda must risk everything to save him.
Directed by Mark Calvert and adapted by Laura Lindow, the production is packed with pleasing touches. There’s a pleasantly spiky Roald Dahl energy about it: the classroom scenes have the chaotic feel of Matilda (reinforced by Paula Penman’s Miss Trunchbull-like teacher). A likeable cast performs with verve, and the show is beautifully designed by Rhys Jarman, from small flourishes like the illuminated umbrellas to a breath-taking giant reindeer. The musical numbers aren’t particularly memorable, but they fit the piece well; a song about the nastiness of Snow Queen boasts the kind of gory lyrics kids will love.
But somehow the show never quite takes flight as it needs to. The first half is overlong, the narrative momentum is too often squandered and its central themes – the power of friendship, and a vague invocation that it’s OK to be yourself and have dreams, whatever petty rules may dictate – come across as a little half baked.