Tag Archives: #Christmas

The Snow Queen on Stage

This festive season (7th-23rd December) Wild Ivy Theatre are performing The Snow Queen at Above the Arts Great Newport Street London. I watched their delightful interpretation of this classic story by Hans Christian Andersen on Thursday 17th December and for 45 minutes was immersed in the simplest most embryonic form of theatrical story telling.

Above the Arts only opened in March 2015 and is a sixty seat auditorium on the first floor above the Arts Theatre. The venue is rather like a large living room where scenery can be placed around the space, with open benches for viewers situated within the same area. This results in an immersive feeling where the audience can easily become an integral part of the performance. The constraints of a tradition theatre setting are removed, resulting in a much more free feeling experience. I couldn’t help thinking that it was a perfect way of introducing young children to theatre performance, by making it a less daunting prospect.

The four actors of the theatre group inhabited all the major characters with great aplomb. Gerda, Kai, Mother, Father, Maid, the Snow Queen, Reindeer, Raven and a fleeting show from the White Fox were all brought to life with a great energy and a lovely sense of fun. Every exaggerated body movement, facial expression and voice change brought storytelling to an elevated level. Stage props were minimal and just sufficient to give a setting context and the costumes simple, basic yet convincing. As there were only four actors and 45 minutes of action these facts helped guarantee a seamless transition between characters to progress the story. Sometimes less is definitely more and it also meant that the imagination of this big kid was fully engaged, for example I chuckled inwardly when the owl voice-overs came on as I envisaged Jane Horrocks (Little Voice) sitting wide eyed in a tree!

After the show I made a point of telling the actors how much I enjoyed their performance. They mentioned that some artistic licence was incorporated within their storyline, and I shall have to re-read the book to remind myself of the nuances of the tale. But the adaptation and setting it was performed in took me back to my five year old self marvelling at a picture book delivered by Santa. The innocence and wonder of an enchanting story that had my imagination fired on all cylinders as a child came flooding back forty years later watching the Wild Ivy Theatre. For that I thank them dearly.

There are three favourite stories I have always associated with Christmas. This production means I have now seen them all performed on stage. In 2013 I saw Hansel and Gretel performed by the Scottish Ballet in Glasgow. My love of this story I believe comes from seeing it as my first pantomime around 1977. The Alistair Sim black and white film A Christmas Carol has always kept Charles Dickens classic tale close to my heart, although I only read the book for the first time in Christmas week 2014! To my delight I watched a one-man show of A Christmas Carol performed by Simon Callow in the larger Arts Theatre in 2012. He was sensational making every expression; word and slight movement speak volumes. I thought at the time I was seeing a mature actor at the height of his powers give the ultimate theatrical master class. In a similar way Wild Ivy Theatre gave an acting master class in the purest storytelling form. The actors may be in the early part of their careers but if this is a glimpse of their potential I’m sure they will go far. Having seen many theatre shows in my time to think of Wild Ivy Theatre and Simon Callow in the same sentence is praise indeed from me. See a Wild Ivy Theatre production if you can it will be worth the effort.

The Snow Queen poster. Image credit abmj70
The Snow Queen poster. Image credit  abmj70

My Twelve Songs of Christmas

What are the songs that make up your personal sound of Christmas? I got to thinking about this question, when I spotted a challenge to choose five different tracks for the season within certain categories. I found I had an “A” List which were my instinctive choices and a “B” List that came later after a bit of thought. By adding an extra two tracks I’ve created my Twelve Songs of Christmas. This is what I came up with:

  1. A classic Christmas song (by this I mean anything from before you were born).

A: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen-a quaint endearing song I have always loved although you hardly ever hear it these days. It makes me think of cards depicting Victorian dressed carol singers, standing in a pristine snow covered winter scene carrying lanterns.

B: Silver Bells-the Bing Crosby rendition of this “feel-good” song is a favourite.

2.  A more modern Christmas song (anything from after you were born)

A: Walking In The Air by Aled Jones-ever since I was little I have associated music with pictures. So when Raymond Briggs animated film The Snowman was released for Christmas 1982, with a special song all of its own, it was the perfect blend for me. Although Peter Auty sang in the film, it was Aled Jones who had a big hit with the song in 1985.

B: Mistletoe and Wine by Cliff Richard-this just has everything.

 3. A Carol (something to do with the birth of Christ-no need to be religious to do that!)

A: Holy Child (lyrics by Timothy Dudley-Smith)-I learned a few verses of this in 1978 for my primary school Christmas play. I was enchanted (and still am) by the tune and lyrics and yet I have never heard it anywhere else since! It begins Holy Child, how still you lie! safe the manger, soft the hay; faint upon the eastern sky breaks the dawn of Christmas Day. I finally tracked it down this year under the auspices of “unusual and rare carols”. I discovered it was printed in a hymn book called Carols for Today, and I think I’ve unearthed a recording of it available on iTunes.

B: Three Kings by Peter Cornelius-I heard this for the first time in my twenties at Keele University. I thought it was incredible and it sent shivers down my spine. My friend David Pye’s amazing rendition is STILL the best one I have heard.

  1. An instrumental/classical piece that makes you feel Christmassy

A: Sleigh Ride by Leroy Anderson-for me THE instrumental tune for the season. Mind you until my husband Rob played it in a concert in 2008 I had no idea what it was called or who composed it.

B: O Little Town by New World Orchestra-heard on The Christmas Chillout Album (2003). A more modern interpretation of the carol O Little Town of Bethlehem that is simply wonderful. Unusually for me I prefer this version to the traditional one and Cliff Richard put his vocals to an updated arrangement in 1998.

  1. A free choice-for if you couldn’t decide for one of the others, or if you have something else totally left-field to get in there!)

A: Abigail’s Song by Katherine Jenkins from the 2010 Dr Who Christmas special based on A Christmas Carol. I have always adored this Dickens tale and Dr Who did an interesting take on the story. Once again the scene from the TV accompanied by a hauntingly beautiful song just blended together so well, to create an incredible memory.

B: God Bless The USA (Proud To Be An American) from American Idol Season 2-My husband and I flew to New York on Christmas Day 2001. Our honeymoon in 1994 had been New York to San Francisco by Amtrak, and we had always said we would go back to both cities one day. “They will always essentially be the same” we said and then September 11th happened. As the festive season of 2001 approached, we knew we had to return to New York and support the city and the people, in the only way we knew how. So flying on NorthWest Airlines, I listened to the music from the “in-flight” entertainment menu and came across this song, which was produced as a result of the 9/11 atrocity. In a way it said everything about WHY we were going to New York and during our stay I found the song on CD. It has remained in my heart ever since that flight and has such a special resonance for me.

 Extras: We Three Kings Of Orient Are-a lovely jaunty carol learned in childhood that makes me smile. Stay Another Day by East 17-the sound of the season in 1994 my first married Christmas.

So many memories, thoughts and feelings are wrapped up in these my Twelve Songs of Christmas, a veritable smorgasbord of sound that sings “Merry Christmas”.