By Flossie Waite
A Birmingham Repertory Theatre Production
7.00pm, 12th December
The Snowman is … unexpected. This classic British Christmas story-cum-commodity is that rare thing – it works both as a book and a film. It should be perfect fodder for a highly choreographed stage-show – a beautiful score by Howard Blake, a huge focus on the visual, and physical comedy. But the book and film’s aesthetic is definitely lost in the unimaginative set, and the production at best has only a clumsy, trying-their-hardest charm to it. This charm is probably increasingly elusive depending on the price spent on tickets.
Though Raymond Briggs’ much-loved story has entered the national consciousness, let’s recap: a young boy builds a snowman which comes to life. After getting to know each other as they explore the boy’s house and garden, they walk in the air all the way to the North Pole, where they party with Father Christmas before coming home. There’s a tragic ending, but somehow we clutch this actually upsetting but beautifully realised story to our collective bosom.
There were a few nice touches – a toy ballerina suddenly comes alive and dances, the snowman performs a duet with the damsel-in-distress of the North Pole, and dancing fruit bursts out of a fridge. However, considering these dances provided the best moments, they were few and far between, especially for a production from Sadler’s Wells. The famous flying scene was unfortunately more like prolonged dangling over an almost empty stage save for a few rogue whales. The movement, choreographed by Robert North, in general was unconvincing and incohesive, particularly considering the work of other theatre companies creating shows for children, like Theatre Hullabaloo. With missed steps and missed beats, The Snowman was just a bit sloppy.
Turning a 20 minute film into an almost two-hour production meant padding out the action a bit. The additional music is unobtrusive and the Snowman gets a chance to save the day. However, there is an additional sequence where each snowman of the North Pole is introduced individually, and given a chance to perform their ‘national dance’. This was where Raymond Briggs confusingly met Bernard Manning, and you have to ask why director Bill Alexander – or anyone involved – agreed to include it. The majority of snowmen are racial stereotypes, which is meant to provide the ‘comedy’ for most of the time spent in the North Pole. Think Santa and a snowman in an ‘Asian’ outfit, continuously bowing to each other, and a ‘Middle Eastern’ snowman in what could only be an Aladdin costume stealing gifts, accompanied by the appropriate ‘Oriental’ music. Safe to say, it’s not just offensive, it’s also deeply old-fashioned humour, and quite lazy.
It’s not that the audience didn’t seem to enjoy themselves. But it felt under-rehearsed at best, and as though it were taking advantage of an audience primed for family theatre at Christmas, at worst. There has been a good deal of truly innovative and exciting work for children produced just in the past few months; made on a tiny budget, playing at small venues, and much, much more reasonably priced and accessible for all families. Considering this, it is disappointing that something fairly expensive and seen by so many like The Snowman, doesn’t take itself seriously enough.
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