IT has been a long time since Bristol Old Vic staged a traditional Christmas pantomime, leaving that genre to the glitzy and expensive Hippodrome. Audiences have come to expect something different at the old theatre in King Street, and this year’s offering, a radical reworking of The Snow Queen, won’t disappoint.
If BOV has a signature under Tom Morris it is puppetry, and in Lee Lyford’s production of Vivienne Franzmann’s new script, the puppets range from the “aaaahhh-how sweet” to the truly terrifying. This is not a show for nervous and easily frightened young children, although in true fairy story style the good win through and the wicked get their come-uppance.
The familiar story is punctuated by a few new ideas – including this season’s fashionable references to gender fluidity.
Behind and around every scene is the incredible music composed and performed by Gwyneth Herbert, from Zara Ramm’s anguished Inuit incantation to new character the Duchess’s brilliant Aristocratic Rap. Gwyneth has composed the music, written the lyrics and performs alongside Balkan Roma klezmer duo Faith i Branko, as well as voicing the Snow Queen with all the chills and thrills she needs.
Gerda and Kai, neighbours and best friends, grow up protected by their (sometimes intolerant) parents in a happy world, but times are changing. The influence of the Snow Queen is encroaching, and she gets her succour from the hearts of badly-behaved children. When she decides that the good and brave Gerda might be more sustaining fare, all she has to do is arrange for Kai to be kidnapped.
With the aid of goblin boffins and their latest scientific discoveries, the transference is easy.
But the power of love is stronger.
Three of the cast, Joanna Holden (remember her Gretel in 2010?), Zara Ramm and Miltos Yerolemou, return to the King Street theatre. Emily Burnett makes her Bristol debut as Gerda, as do Steven Roberts as Kai, Jessica Hayles and Dylan Wood.
There is never a dull moment as the story unfolds and Gerda meets revolutionary birds, imprisoned cervines, arrogant aristocrats and a band of comic robbers. Each has a message.
Lee Lyford’s production etches indelible images on the memory – Zara Ramm’s Queen of the Sun in full cry, Miltos Yerolemou’s flower covered onesie, Joanna Holden’s ghastly boffin, Jessica Hayles strutting Duchess and many more.
This Snow Queen, which brings Bristol Old Vic’s 250th anniversary celebrations to a magnificent climax, is a production that underlines the excitement and depth of artistic talent focussed on the city at the moment.
Unmissable entertainment, and on until 15th January.