Peacock Theatre, London
The much-loved Birmingham Rep production of The Snowman, based on the book by Raymond Briggs and the film directed by Dianne Jackson has now been delighting audiences for a remarkable twenty-six years. It’s now back in the West End for another seasonal run and, taking my seat with the real audience, my two grandchildren, the excitement in the auditorium was palpable. It doesn’t disappoint.
The story tells how a young boy’s snowman comes to life on Christmas Eve, the two then setting off on a night-time quest for adventure. They meet Father Christmas, dancing penguins, reindeer and crowds of The Snowman’s friends. But will they escape evil Jack Frost and get back home for Christmas morning?
The production is up there with the best. Jackie Orton’s costumes are excellent. Robert Allsop’s animal heads are some of the best I have seen in a long time. The sets are simple and easily recognisable, with some effective back projection during the flying sequence. The flying is true theatre magic with the lines completely invisible. Of course, Santa brings his own special wonder. The end, when wet and cold ‘snow’ falls on the audience, is magical.
Howard Blake’s music is jolly, if not especially memorable. Although there are quite a lot of reprises, on this occasion at least, ‘Walking in the Air’ was, disappointingly, only revisited once.
The choreography is disappointing, however. It’s neither particularly interesting nor engaging. Maybe having an eye on the youngsters the show is largely aimed at, it felt as though Robert North had made it as undemanding as possible. The only pas de deux, which comes in Act Two, is plebeian, although the soloist (sadly, no performance-specific casting credits are given) did her best to bring a sense of fun and character into her dancing.
While the show does have a fair bit of padding, it holds up and remains engaging. The two penguins and Santa are a delight. The performers were clearly enjoying themselves, and it travelled across the footlights. The Snowman is appropriately lumbering, but there is something about the expression of his head mask that does not encourage emotional engagement. This may have been intentional, to prevent many of the young audience bursting into tears when he melts, but I found it strangely off-putting.
The Boy was wonderful. He put his heart and soul into the character, and was utterly believable, every inch of the way in a performance that was very well-rehearsed, confident and secure performance.
What of the real audience? My grandchildren sat enthralled throughout. As we left, my 7-year-old, neuro-diverse, grandson said, “‘I have no words,” which sums it up nicely.
The Snowman is well worth making the effort to catch. But be sure to take a member of the real audience with you. They will be entranced.
The Snowman is at the Peacock Theatre, London to December 30, 2023.