REVIEW: The Snow Queen (Polka Theatre)

It’s been an exciting year for Polka Theatre, with the children’s theatre winning an Offies People’s Vote award for Best Programming Policy, and Helen Matravers taking over as Artistic Director in January. The fantastic programming has continued throughout Matravers’ first year at the helm, with lots of high quality in-house and touring productions gracing the stages of Polka’s two main performance spaces. (We end up at Polka so often that we’re starting to think we should move to Wimbledon!) Wrapping up the year in the Main Theatre is Polka’s latest Christmas production; a new adaptation of The Snow Queen for ages 6 to 12.

Adapted by Jude Christian (writer of the National Theatre’s fantastic Hamlet for Young Audiences), The Snow Queen is a contemporary retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale in which the supposed antagonist gets a Wicked style backstory. Best friends Gerda (Rebecca Wilson) and Kai (Finlay McGuigan) are planning the adventure that will determine the rest of their lives (because everyone knows that becoming a grown-up involves a perilous rite of passage). There’s a whole world to explore outside their sleepy little town, and the besties have their sights set on finding the infamous Snow Queen (Phoebe Naughton) and finding out why their town is in a perpetual state of winter.

Phoebe Naughton and Finlay McGuigan in The Snow Queen. Image credit: Ali Wright

But when a shard of magic mirror (circulating in space thanks to the miserable Troll King (Joe Boylan)) falls into Kai’s eye, he no longer wants anything to do with Gerda. Bitter and miserable, Kai suddenly finds himself in the company of the Snow Queen. But what does she want with him? And will Gerda manage to find them before Kai’s heart turns to ice forever?

It’s an enjoyable tale with a witty script, that adds greater depth to the character of the Snow Queen and includes morals about friendship, fitting in and looking for ways of making yourself happy instead of bringing other people down. There is also some interesting messaging around growing up and finding yourself, as well as the value of listening to older people instead of assuming that they have nothing of interest to say.

Although the ending diverges from the traditional tale, much of the story is true to Andersen’s version, with some more comedic interludes woven into the darker fairy story. From the pantoesque Troll King to a trio of singing flowers to assist Gerda on her adventure, it’s quite surreal in places and results in a slightly disjointed production which (a little like its protagonists) doesn’t seem to have quite settled on what it wants to be.

Joe Boylan, Phoebe Naughton and Paula James in The Snow Queen. Image credit: Ali Wright

We felt that it could have done without the panto vibes, as the strength of this production really lies in the storytelling. Naughton is excellent as the Snow Queen; giving off chilling vibes as she stalks the stage before the ice melts and we get to hear her side of the story. Laura Ann Price’s set and costume design is another real highlight of this visually striking production, complemented by powerful lighting by Laura Howard. We especially enjoyed the way that the costumes cleverly blended into the set.

There is a healthy sprinkling of Christmas magic throughout the show, with both snow and confetti making an early appearance; always a surefire way to get a young audience gasping with wonder – although you do then rather lose their attention for a good few minutes while they collect the pieces of confetti as souvenirs! For those who enjoy the panto style elements, there are also opportunities to sing along and get involved in the action.

Overall, The Snow Queen is a visually stunning production that offers a thought-provoking twist on a classic fairy story. Although a little confused in style, it’s still entertaining enough to warm the iciest heart, and well worth a winter trip to Wimbledon.

The Snow Queen plays at Polka Theatre from 11 November 2023 to 21 January 2024. We received complimentary press tickets to the 2.30pm performance on Sunday 19 November 2023.

Image credit: Ali Wright.