The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen has become a stalwart production at Christmas across the years, performed in many ways by many companies. Here at Wilton’s Music Hall this year its Footsbarn Theatre Company’s chance to bring it to the stage, in their production La Petite Gerda – Little Gerda and the Queen of the Snow.
The cast walk the story in with beautifully harmonised singing, radiating tradition, and we are told to expect the original tale of Little Gerda in an authentic retelling. She lives with her grandmother and best friend Kay, who is like a brother to her. When the Snow Queen freezes his heart, Gerda courageously journeys across the land to find him at the Queen’s ice palace and release him from her powers, helped and hindered on her way by intriguing characters and talking animals.
Footsbarn is a small company that comes packed with big talent, and this production has a beautifully exotic edge due to the multi-roling international cast who all sing, and many play instruments. Gerda herself is played with a delightful French accent by Marine Sylf. The rest of the team share the various additional parts, offering multiple interesting voices and accents to the roles. Haka Haris Resic as the bearded Baboushka gives a touch of jolly pantomime to the performance, whilst Brennan Amonett is enjoyably dynamic and likeable as both Kay and his numerous other characters.
The music throughout, composed by Sadie Jemmett, is enchanting, and paints a wonderful backdrop to an imaginative, highly visual portrayal of an ancient, fairy tale world. It is played live on a multiplicity of fascinating instruments, with musicians often visible on stage.
Having introduced this beautiful ambiance it’s a shame that early on in the production the set wobbles repeatedly and threatens to fall over, suddenly making the scene feel less professional. The audience don’t seem to mind too much though, laughing it off alongside the characters on stage.
There’s a strong cast, who embrace the physicality and playfulness of the adventure, whilst taking time to bond with the audience and draw them in to the tale. And there are plenty of laughs, from fun with the grandmother to the petulant princess. Fredericka Hayter and Zana Goodall’s design work is creative and charming, hiding snow in the most unexpected places to underscore the chilly background of an icy world, using a simple strip of waving fabric to introduce a flowing river, and bringing animals into being with evocative materials and our own imaginations.
In places, however, things feel a little patchy. Although decidedly entertaining, the more modern characterisation of the princess (Sophie Doyle), recalling a rather stroppy teenager, seems at odds with the otherwise very traditional retelling. Further, the portrayal of the princess and her new husband through puppets – although beautifully crafted ones – feels unnecessary and shoe-horned in.
Alongside the excellent music the strongest feature of La Petite Gerda for me is Jean Grison’s theatrical and dramatic lighting, which elevates the striking visual properties of the piece. Each snowflake is accentuated, and the prominent characters of the stag, the crow and the Snow Queen herself are made ethereal within it. There were moments I wanted even more of this, perhaps to mark the passing of seasons more clearly, as Gerda’s time elapses without her realising, and suddenly a year is gone.
Footsbarn’s La Petite Gerda is a lovely version of a classic story that gives focus to themes of friendship, determination, courage and kindness. With its delightful visuality and homespun, folksy feel it will surely bring enough warmth to melt anyone’s frozen heart this Christmas.
Written, directed and composed by: Sadie Jemmett
Puppets by: Fredericka Hayter
Sets and Costume by: Fredericka Hayter and Zana Goodall
Lighting by: Jean Grison
Produced by: Footsbarn Theatre Company
La Petite Gerda has now finished its run.