The Snow Queen – Smock Alley – Review


The Snow Queen at Smock Alley Theatre: an environmentalist take on Andersen’s classic – by Pia Maltri

5 – 23 Dec @ 7:30pm | Main Space
Matinees @ 2:30pm on Saturdays plus Wed 21, Thurs 22, Fri 23 Dec

It’s a trademark of masterpieces to lend themselves to multiple readings, and Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales are no exception. The stories woven by the Danish author are then particularly stratified, and often present episodes of apparently obscure meaning. It is in this light that we can appreciate Ian Toner’s version of ‘The Snow Queen”, in that it draws inspiration from some aspects of the original story to create something new and quite different, but no less interesting. If the Andersen’s fairy tale can be summarised as a richly figurative and complex coming of age story, where good and evil are subtly intertwined rather than sharply opposed, Toners’ play is inspired by a passage at the beginning of the story, which describes “a large town, full of houses and people”, where there’s no space for nature and “flowers in a pot” take the place of gardens (this is 1844). It’s in fact the environmentalist theme that takes centre stage here with the very current issue of climate change and global warming, creating a story around the question: “what happens to the Snow Queen when the snow and ice is all gone?”. It’s a ‘post-melting’ world of cities on canals, where Venice has disappeared and Christmas is a thing of the past together with the ice and the snow. Above all hangs the specter of “The Corporation”, the entity that reigns over this ‘watery’ world and has control over everything, including education. Linked to this main theme there are many gibes at aspects of the modern times: the internet taking the place of books, the vacuity of social media, the financiers being the modern ‘pirates’.

As for the Smock Alley production of this adaptation, a general praise can be sang of the whole cast and crew. The actors, the special effects, the costumes, the lighting: all worked in harmony to create a show that kept children glued to their chairs and adults equally engaged, although for different reasons. As the children enjoyed the many fun parts of the show, adults could appreciate the richness of detail and multiple ‘adult’ references: there was even space for subtly quoting three operas (La Traviata, Carmen and finally La Boheme in the ‘aria’ of Rudolpho/Rodolfo)!

It’s almost unfair to pick one name in the cast as all the actors were really good, but a special mention could go to Clodagh Mooney Duggan as the protagonist Gerda for her consistently confident scenic presence and convincing interpretation of the brave little girl in search of her lost friend. But how to forget Mildred, the amusingly vicious pirate girl played by Aislinn O’Byrne, or the impoverished Nick (aka Santa Claus), former CEO of “Christmas Inc.” played by Gerard Adlum?

If we were to be hypercritical, we could say that this adaptation of the story substantially flattens one of the main and most interesting aspects of the original, which is the intrinsic moral duality of human nature, the coexistence of good and evil in each of us. The device of the mirror revealing the ‘real’, ugly face of the world, introduced at the end rather than at the beginning of the story, is detracting a fundamental preamble and the character of Kay loses most of his interest and depth this way. But this absence is not enough to compromise the internal logic of the piece which rests, as we’ve seen, on whole new layers of meaning.

In short, if you are one of those parents who dreads bringing the kids to a ‘childrens’ show’ and having to bear with one hour or two of colourful nonsense, fear not: this production proves a thoroughly satisfying watch both for adults and children. If you only choose one family show this Christmas, you can very safely make it “The Snow Queen” at the Smock Alley Theatre. For sure, there are good things happening in that place.

Categories: Header, Theatre, Theatre Review

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