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The Snow Spider, Ovalhouse Theatre

Delyth Jones & James Lark, based on the book by Jenny Nimmo
Directed by Delyth Jones

Pros: A really interesting script, incredibly talented performers, and a great design.

Cons: Though advertised for children, some moments came off as potentially too dark for the youngest viewers.

Our Verdict: A delightful and engaging adaptation suitable for kids and mature viewers.

Courtesy of the Ovalhouse Theatre

In their latest production at the Ovalhouse, the Io Theatre Company has successfully intertwined children’s literature with music and physical performance, creating a show that is accessible and exciting not only for families but also for any theatre-goer looking for an engaging piece of work. The Snow Spider is based on the children’s novel by author Jenny Nimmo, who may now be more well-known for her recent Charlie Bone series. The script is steeped in magic and mystery, and was a great Halloween treat but will surely continue to entertain even after the season of witches and spells has passed.

The story follows a Welsh school boy named Gwyn, whose kooky grandmother reveals to him on his ninth birthday that he is descendant from a long line of powerful Welsh magicians. Along with this impossible knowledge, she offers him a box of assorted everyday items meant to help him discover his powers. Gwyn is able to summon an ethereal silver spider from what he believes to be another world, and his fascination with his own potential begins to cause trouble for him at school and at home. The action of the play that follows sees Gwyn coming into his own as a magician while struggling to maintain friends at school and cope with a tragic loss in his family. The story offers the escape and excitement of childhood fantasy, but never sets aside real life domestic struggles, and so manages to reach both children and adults effectively.

The effect of magic and mystery is achieved through lighting and space design, as well as through the incorporation of music and rhythm. When the show began in song, I was surprised and not quite sure how I was going to feel – but The Snow Spider doesn’t incorporate the cheesy sing-alongs you might expect in a children’s show, but rather utilizes the vocal and instrumental skills of its cast to create a complex, interesting and convincing air of fantasy throughout the production.

The cast was truly magnificent and multi-talented – singing, dancing, playing instruments, and often taking on multiple and varied ensemble roles. Particularly exciting was the ability of the actors to supersede age and gender – no aging make up was used to make relatively young actors portraying parents and grandparents look older, and only minimal props were used to suggest when the actors played children. Often male and female performers in the ensemble portrayed opposite genders, and though the methods of suggestion were simple and it relied fully on body language and physical performance, there was never a question to the believability of any performance.

The Snow Spider is sure to be a great family outing, but I did find myself a tad concerned about extremely young viewers’ experiences, as there is some fairly heavy subject matter concerning death and familial unrest central to the plot. Furthermore, there are some fairly frightening climactic scenes which I wouldn’t necessarily recommend bringing a child predisposed to nervousness or nightmares to.

Speaking of fear – I have a paralyzing one of spiders, so was a little apprehensive to attend a production presumably about a spider. I was more than pleasantly surprised therefore, to find that I absolutely loved the delicate and subtle design of the hand-puppet used to represent Gwyn’s spider friend. If a show can make me appreciate a spider, I can’t be anything but impressed, so if you ever had any doubt, don’t let arachnophobia keep you from missing this great and creative production!

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

The Snow Spider runs at the Ovalhouse Theatre until 17th November 2012.
Box Office: 020 7582 768 or book online at http://www.ovalhouse.com/whatson/booktickets/SnowSpider

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  1. Sounds a wonderful production which I am going to see next week. However I feel I must point out that the boy in the story is called Gwyn. Gwen is a girl’s name!!
    As to the suitability for younger children..my own children saw the original TV production when they were young and they adored it, insisting that we had the video which they watched frequently. Really looking forward to seeing this production!!

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