First published in The Times, Monday December 10 2018
The Snow Queen is no stranger to Dundee Rep. The most recent production of Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, in 2012, starred the aptly named Emily Winter in the role of the icy monarch, negotiating a pine forest on stilts.
As one of the longer-serving members of the Rep ensemble, Winter also appears in this latest incarnation, though this time in the role of the Summer Princess, ruler of a balmy, fruit pastille-coloured region the heroine Gerda (Chiara Sparkes) has to pass through on her way to the frozen north.
Frankly, the heroine makes a couple of pit stops too many in Scott Gilmour and Claire McKenzie’s epic new version of the story (which is not so much a straight adaptation of Andersen as an expansion of his themes). One or two scenes, including the lengthy prologue, could have used a greedier edit. The map of Gerda’s journey north to rescue her beloved best friend Kai (Ross Baxter), beamed onto the curtain at the end of act one, is as intricately detailed as something from Tolkien or Game of Thrones.
Pic: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan
Even so, Andrew Panton’s production is often fun, largely thanks to Sparkes, who creates an intrepid central character that you root for and care about, as well as the array of comic sidekicks Gerda gathers around her during her quest, including the heroic double act of Ewan Donald’s delightfully ambivalent crow and David Delve’s knight of the summer plains, Sir Jeffery.
Gilmour and McKenzie, whose company Noisemaker is the co-producer for the show, bring plenty of wit to their script and beautifully orchestrated original songs as well as some sharp slivers of genuine darkness. The first appearance of the title character (played with a disarming mix of menace and melancholy by Sophie Reid) is as a projection, with the image of her snarling face appearing and disintegrating above the stage. It is an effective, chamber of horrors-style sequence that sends audible shivers through the auditorium.
Pic: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan
Indeed, the show is full of strong visual imagery, from the cosy little Scandic huts created by Richard Evans, the designer, to the virtual blizzard that rages across the stage thanks to Lewis Den Hertog’s awesome video designs.
Admittedly, some of the set pieces are a tad over-the-top (the sequence introducing the Snow Queen wouldn’t look out of place during the live show for the Eurovision Song Contest) but the storytelling comes into its own in the second half, with the finale easily stirring the emotions as well as the senses.