On a cosy Christmas evening, when the gifts have been and gone and all that’s left in the Quality Street tin are the toffee pennies, there’s nothing better than curling up on the sofa and watching The Snowman. I can’t remember a Christmas without the charming illustrations of Raymond Briggs coming alive on screen. And given my Dad’s love of the film, there probably hasn’t been a year without it for me. The adaptation for stage has been going every Christmas since 1997, but we’ve never had a chance to see it before. So, there’s some big expectations as we headed to the Peacock Theatre on a mild November afternoon.
Trying to capture the magic of this iconic film, and the original illustrations, was never going to be easy, yet under the direction of Bill Alexander, this family favourite is brought to life. It is relatively faithful to the original, with no speech, just the wonderful music of Howard Blake and, of course, the iconic song “Walking in the Air”. It’s clearly a wonderful family day out, with tempting Snowman merch in the foyer and hundreds of excitable children dressed in their finest.
The set, by Birmingham Rep workshops, is one of the stars of the show. The entire stage appears to be in a snow globe when you first arrive, giving a hint at the Boy’s family home. As the Boy creates the Snowman, rolling increasingly large balls of snow across the stage, the audience are entranced. The way that the Snowman first appears on stage is effective, however the costume feels a little tired compared to the rest of the show, it’s the weakest link, which is a shame. Having said that, the children in the audience clearly love him.
The first half is very faithful to the script, with the Snowman exploring the Boy’s house. Subtle changes to scale in the set are incredibly effective here. And the scene where the Snowman tries on different pieces of fruit as his nose, triggers roars of laughter from the little ones all around, which is a joy to experience. The other winner of the afternoon was of course the appearance of Father Christmas, and that childlike joy was heart-warmingly infectious.
As the animation is only about half an hour long, there is clearly some filler required to bring this into an hour and a half long show. In the first half this feels nice, with the toys coming alive and dance sequences adding an extra touch of magic. In the second, it feels a bit indulgent, and by the end we’re ready for the snowmen to dance off the stage. A newer scene featuring Jack Frost and an Ice Princess in particular feels entirely unnecessary, and as the child behind me questions what he’s trying to do to the girl, I can’t help but wonder the same.
One of the best things about The Snowman is the music, especially when there’s no speech. However, in this production, the music felt a bit flat without a full orchestra to support the score. On peering over from the Dress Circle into the pit, there appeared to be a percussionist, pianist, and keyboard player. A string section would have added some much-needed depth to the sound.
Having said all this, there’s no denying the festive magic of this family show. The famous “Walking in the Air” scene really is utterly captivating. We had a lovely time, and it was clear that all the children around were completely in awe of what they’d witnessed, and ultimately, that’s what it’s all about.
Music and Lyrics by Howard Blake
Choreography by Robert North
Directed by Bill Alexander
Produced by Birmingham Rep Enterprises Ltd for Birmingham Rep Theatre Company
The Snowman plays the Peacock Theatre until 30 December 2023. Further information and bookings can be found here.