This holiday season, Theatre New Brunswick presents an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale The Snow Queen. Adapted by director Thomas Morgan Jones, The Snow Queen tells the story of a young girl named Gerda (Miriam Fernandes) who embarks on a journey full of magic and peril to save her best friend Kai (Antoine Yared) from the titular villain (Michelle Polak).
The trouble all begins when shards of a cursed mirror land in Kai’s eye and heart, causing him to become very mean towards his friends and neighbors. And then one day, the Snow Queen appears before Kai and bestows upon him a kiss that makes him forget his loved ones, including Gerda. Kai is soon taken far away from home to the Snow Queen’s ice palace.
Along the way to save Kai, Gerda meets a variety of characters – the actors in multiple roles – from new lands. An evil old woman (Polak) casts a spell on Gerda that traps her in a deep sleep. Later, Gerda meets a Crow (Andrew Broderick) who tells her he may have seen Kai. And then, Gerda’s voyage in a golden carriage ends when she is taken prisoner by The Robber’s Daughter (Eva Barrie).
The magic of Andersen’s fairy tale is in what Gerda discovers out in the natural world, away from the comforts of home. Although somehow Gerda’s epic journey feels very small inside the Fredericton Playhouse. One part of the problem is how barren Jung-Hye Kim’s set looks, especially with a small cast of actors. The stage action is captured inside two large frames that have an ice crystal pattern along their borders. There is plenty of room for set pieces to fly and roll in, although perhaps too much room. Kim’s set works fine for the ice palace, but what about the vast, living world that Gerda ventures out into?
Jones’ direction also feels far too contained for the scope of Andersen’s fairy tale. The staging could be more open so to give a greater sense of the world around Gerda. Really, TNB’s Open Space Theatre might have been a better venue for The Snow Queen than the Playhouse. Perhaps then the set would not feel as empty, and more flourish could have been added to breathe extra life and warmth into the set. Michelle Ramsay’s lighting work does add some dimension and excitement to the production, but not enough to push the show full on towards holiday spectacle.
Sherry Kinnear’s splendid costume designs capture the awe that awaits Gerda outside her front door. The Rose (Barrie) is dressed beautifully in soft green and deep red, making the evil old woman’s act of trapping her underground all the more terrible. The Crow’s sharp, detailed wings look great when Broderick opens his arms wide. Denise Richard’s masks for the animal characters, particularly the reindeer Ba (Broderick), are also visually stunning.
Fernandes plays Gerda with cheery determination, delivering an enchanting performance that makes us root our young heroine. One of Fernandes’ great strengths is the vibrancy of her expression and movement, which fits very well in a story like The Snow Queen. Her stage partners share the same enthusiasm, making the the production a joy to watch. What’s fun about Barrie’s portrayal of The Robber’s Daughter is how she plays the character, who really enjoys waving her knife around, with a cavernous gruffness. It’s just such a contrast to the other fairy tale characters, even the Snow Queen, that Barrie truly shines when she takes the stage. Broderick captures the physical qualities of a crow and reindeer very well. Polak has a big presence as the Snow Queen. Yared makes the switch from good-natured to arrogant feel like a real loss for Gerda.
Although the fantastic charm of Andersen’s fairy tale feels limited, if not underwhelming at times, TNB’s production of The Snow Queen is still an enjoyable ride thanks to a strong cast of actors who are served well by excellent costume and mask design.
Theatre New Brunswick’s production of The Snow Queen runs December 15 – 17 at the Fredericton Playhouse. The production will be touring New Brunswick until December 20th.
For more information, including tour dates and how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.tnb.nb.ca/the-snow-queen/