Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman and the book’s short film adaptation is as much a part of a child’s Christmas as stockings and baubles. The willing step into the world of implausible magic and dreamlike imagination is an excellent friend to the believability of the big man himself, Father Christmas. If he can fly around the world in a sleigh, why can’t snowmen come alive at night and soar above buildings too?
This stage version by Birmingham Reparatory Theatre - which has been on stage every year for more than 20 years - captures the magic of the book and film perfectly. My sister has seen it every year for about 6 years (her eldest is 9) and so every year after the first time she saw it I thought “What - again?” when she set off from our family Christmas in the Twixmas - that is to say, the time between Christmas and New Year - to meet up with friends in Holborn. Now, I get it. Like a favourite children’s book, this could easily been watched and relished every year as a family tradition.
It’s advertised as a ballet, but it's more of an introduction for children rather than a full-blown Sadler’s Wells extravaganza (which they do very well). There are enough balletic moments to capture the magic of pointe work and tutus - and indulge grown-ups craving the mega-watt version - but not enough to bore three-year-olds into resenting the experience or put them off watching dance for life. Robert North’s choreography really covers the lot - elegant moments by the doll who has come alive to dance with the Snowman, and a brilliant villain in Jack Frost who attempts to steal her away with a quick step and a few pirouettes worthy of a conniving villain. He also had an ice-blue latex-like jacket and spiky blue hair which was a delightfully unique take on the baddie identity. There is also a dancing pineapple who jumps out of the fruit bowl with a pineapple and a banana - the playfulness that has been brought to every moment is really evocative of how children see the world, which North clearly appreciates.
Seeing a crowd of snowmen in head-to-toe crinkly snowsuits dance together in Ruari Murchison’s stage set of enormous fir trees arching over the stage, a kaleidoscope of lit snow sweeping over the whole scene is really a surreal and magical moment that will be now etched into the memories of the many babies in the audience.
The music by Howard Blake also deserves a huge shout-out. The flying scenes of snowman and boy are the famous musical moments, but the fast-moving parts of waltzing snowmen and fighting with Jack Frost are lifted and accelerated by the music which reinforces the atmosphere, lifting a snowman jig into a beautiful moment of friendship and joy. While you find ‘he’s behind you!’ at the pantomime, the noise here is completely silent apart from the music - quite a tonic to the overwhelming overstimulation of Christmas shopping or following the narrative of a children’s film. An excellent production for people of a childish disposition aged 0-100, I hope to return next year.
It runs until 30 December. Tickets from £20: here.
Review: Caiti Grove Photos: Tristram Kenton