There’s something about Christmas that brings out stories of cold-hearted characters who inhabit harsh and wintery worlds. Whether you’re looking for a Christmas-hating miser who learns the error of his ways or a wicked Queen with a heart of ice, there are plenty of productions to choose from over the festive season, including countless adaptations of A Christmas Carol, a touring production of The Grinch, an acclaimed production of The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe and several versions of The Snow Queen (including the long-awaited Frozen II). As the Munchkins are fans of both Frozen and the original fairytale, it seemed inevitable that we would end up at at least one stage production of the Hans Christian Andersen classic. Mummy decided to go for Frozen Snow Queen, Canada Water Theatre’s Christmas offering for ages 6+ which promised to be a “festive treat” in which we could expect to “cheer the goodies and boo the baddies”. So far, so festive. Unfortunately, what Mummy is about to write makes her feel distinctly like one of the baddies……
Mummy was particularly drawn to this production as it is produced by deaf theatre specialists D-Live!, a company describing themselves as “pioneers of a radical dramatic visual form that explores new territory in digital theatre”. It all sounded really exciting, and it was great to see so many people using British Sign Language, clearly excited to see a show that was designed with them in mind. Which makes it even more disappointing to report that it was a very poorly conceived show that didn’t really work at all.
Mummy notes that she received an email the day before the show, warning that audience feedback indicated that some sections were exclusively in BSL and therefore confusing to audiences who don’t sign. In response to the feedback, The Albany Theatre was offering either a refund or tickets to another show for anyone concerned that Frozen Snow Queen would not be accessible to them. Mummy did not take up this offer because she felt that it would be good for the Munchkins (and Mummy!) to experience how it feels to not be able to follow everything. And this actually did not turn out to be the problem.Yes, there were moments where we could not understand precisely what the actor (Julian Peedle-Calloo) was signing. But his movements and facial expressions were sufficient to give us the gist, in much the same way as in dance shows and the many productions for young children which do not use spoken word at all. The problem was pretty much everything else.
Running at almost an hour an a half (without an interval) it was far too long for the intended audience and it dragged badly throughout. Mummy has never seen a children’s show of this length. It’s longer than the first Act of most West End shows and contained far less to entertain or engage the young audience (or their adults for that matter). Quite a few families left before the show finished and Mummy does not think that was the fault of their children’s attention spans. The D-Live! website puts the age recommendation at 8+ rather than 6+ but Mummy can’t imagine that the problem would have been solved by encouraging an audience of slightly older children. Crotchet is very nearly 8 and has seen more than her fair share of shows. This was her 39th trip to the theatre this year and one of almost 80 productions she has seen in the last two years (ranging from theatre aimed at toddlers to West End musicals). It is the only show she has claimed to dislike and the only time that she has whispered “I’m bored” mid show. More interestingly, Crotchet could actually articulate why she was bored. She said that she wanted to “see people acting”. And with this cutting criticism, she identified what Mummy also thought was the biggest problem with this show.
The supposedly pioneering and “interactive” fusion of live theatre with digital technology was nothing more than two actors performing in front of a screen, on which the remaining characters appeared in recorded scenes. The screen itself also served as the backdrop for the show, and allowed for the incorporation of captions (which were filled with errors that would have made it hard for children to follow). But it meant that large sections of the show simply involved staring at a screen. The two actors barely interacted with each other at all, and the “interaction” with the on-screen characters was very clunky. It lost all the magic of live theatre and was just not engaging at all. To compound the problem, the script was unnecessarily wordy and there were long sections involving the Devil which felt completely out of place. Scenes that were seemingly intended to be funny felt flat, while the disconnect between the live and digital action made it difficult to invest in the characters and their stories. Mummy did feel for the actors themselves, who both did as much as they could with the material they were given. But they could not steer the sinking ship past the giant iceberg.
Looking around, most of the children in the audience were clearly bored. Both the Munchkins were restless. As was Mummy. And poor Granny who had come for a festive visit and taken Mrs Mummy’s ticket. Mrs Mummy feels glad that she had a lucky escape. Granny was duly rewarded with a stiff drink at lunchtime, while Mummy reassured her that this was not representative of all the excellent theatre she has seen in London and at this venue (including some spectacular deaf-accessible productions).
Mummy has found no pleasure at all in writing this review. She really wanted to like this show and she hopes that companies like D-Live! continue to try and find innovative ways of making theatre truly accessible to all audiences. But she does worry that any families who saw this as either their first experience of live theatre or deaf-accessible theatre may be put off attending in future. She hopes that she is wrong.
RATING: Raindrops on roses (aka 1 out of 5 of my favourite things).
Frozen Snow Queen played at Canada Water Theatre on 20 and 21 December 2019.