18 December 2020

The Snow Queen: A Rock 'N' Roll Panto - Review.

The pantomime season is usually the highlight of the year for many theatres up and down the country. Naturally, this year's picture for the season is bleak with many productions having been cancelled or postponed. 


The New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich has thankfully managed to go ahead unaffected and has re-invented their own popular Rock 'N' Roll panto for both a socially distance audience in the theatre but also live-streaming the production to homes.


The restrictions mean things are scaled back but none of the production value is lost. Peter Rowe and the team have managed to create a wholesome production that delivers great escapism despite the challenges in their way. 


The Snow Queen takes us to the town of Ballbroken (yes really!) where the evil ice queen and her sidekick Icicle are spreading coldheartedness when they break a mirror sending its shards to freeze hearts. She kidnaps the young Kay taking him to her palace and putting him under her control. Villager Greda is tasked by the Spirit of Spring to go and rescue him, choosing Kay's mother Dame Sigrid Smorgasboard as her companion.


Steve Simmonds, Lucy Wells, Adam Langstaff and James Haggie.


With just a cast of five actors, who also play all the music, there are some clever scene changes using pre-recorded video allowing the actors to change between the roles. There's a lovely duet of 'Happy Together' shot on location in Ipswich. The video allows for The Snow Queen's arrival to be more powerful as she glides in on her sleigh. The best use of the video comes as Gerda and Dame Sigrid travel to rescue Kay, they leave Ipswich accompanied by The Proclaimers classic 'I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)', they gradually get faster and faster before they end up in Norwich. The video design by Peter Hazelwood is brilliant.


That cast of five is clearly having a blast performing in this production. Steve Simmonds is a delight as Dame Sigrid, his delivery of the jokes had me in stitches. It's been so long since I've seen (even virtually) such brilliant live comedy. Being panto there are lots of jokes that will certainly fly over the kid's heads and plenty of COVID references including a Boris Johnson gag using a puppet in the second act. There's a tremendous sequence with fish jokes and props. Although there are certain moments like the use of 'Sex On Fire' that I think didn't fit in. 


James Haggie, who is vocally outstanding, gets to play both simpleton Simon and the villainous Icicle. Natasha Lewis is endearingly lovely as Primrose before switching to the evil Snow Queen. She gives a fine rendition of Madonna's 'Frozen' towards the end of the first act.


Adam Langstaff splits between Kay and his father Sven well. Lucy Wells excels both in terms of performance and vocals as Gerda. She has a really warm presence. It was lovely to see characters have interactions without socially distancing (I presume the cast have formed a bubble), there's even an onstage kiss! 


Sure with the COVID restrictions, you do miss the audience reactions, although Dame Sigrid does have a great interaction with a member of the front row. You lose some of what makes panto well panto, there's no "it's behind you" and that but there is still boos and cheers, but one thing you don't lose is the fun and enjoyment. 


Much credit to the design team who have effectively created the world. Barney George's set design cleverly uses the space, David Phillips's lighting enhances the feel of the Ice world as well as life in Ballbroken. The sound design by James Cook is strong and there's great camera work that puts the virtual audience right at the heart the production. 


There's definitely a lot of work gone in to make sure both audiences feel involved. There's a great interactive moment at the interval as viewers both in the theatre and at home get to vote on the name of the hammer which plays a central part of the second act. The theatre must be commended for making this production one of the most accessible productions, everyone performance is captioned and audio described. The theatre has a signed performance for next week and is also planning a relaxed performance. 


Adam Langstaff and Lucy Wells.


To pull off such a brilliant production during these challenging times is a real feat and everyone at The New Wolsey have done an outstanding job. Even in the pre-show videos featuring previous Dames I just felt a warmth happiness flow through me. It was so lovely to get lost in some joyous live family entertainment. 


Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ - dazzling uplifting pantomime spectacle pulled off superbly. 

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