Review: The Snow Queen, New Wolsey Theatre

One classic British Christmas tradition that we don't have here in the United States is going to see a panto. Pantos (short for pantomimes) are musical comedies aimed at families that are popular during the holiday season. I made a video a few years ago, when I lived in London and saw my first panto, talking about the tradition and what the shows are typically like.  

Obviously, pantos look a little different this year if they're happening at all. The New Wolsey Theatre is having their production of The Snow Queen available both in person and digitally. It's a great way for those in the UK who don't live nearby or can't go out in public to see the show, but it also opens it up to international audiences. If you're an American who's curious about panto, this is a great way to experience it.

The Snow Queen by Peter Rowe is a fairytale story using rock 'n' roll music. It includes lots of older songs that you will recognize like "I'm Gonna Be," "I Can See Clearly Now," and "Ring of Fire." Both costuming and performances are fun and over the top, as is befitting for a panto. 

It's a smaller cast than you would normally expect, but they do a great job of playing multiple roles. The actors also play instruments and double as the band. The show makes the most of a minimal set and uses screens onstage to occasionally show pre-filmed video montages. It's a clever way of giving the in-person audience a full experience while also presenting something to the online audience that feels like more than a traditional livestream. 

The Snow Queen is a story about two young sweethearts, Gerda (Lucy Wells) and Kay (Adam Langstaff). But romance is also brewing for Gerda's father (also played by Adam Langstaff) and Kay's mother, Dame Sigrid Smorgasbord (Steve Simmonds). When the Snow Queen (Natasha Lewis) and her minion Icicle (James Haggie) kidnap Kay, Gerda must find a way to get him back.

While they all have lovely voices, Wells is particularly charming as Gerda. Lewis shines both as the Snow Queen and as Primrose. Simmonds does an excellent job at getting the audience laughing and throwing himself whole-heartedly into the role of Dame Sigrid Smorgasbord. 

As intense as the story sounds, it's really more silly than scary and perfect for younger children despite the somewhat adult humor of Dame Sigrid Smorgasbord (which would likely go over their heads). A large part of the panto experience is audience interaction and the New Wolsey has done a great job of building that in, even for a digital audience. 

On the digital stream, you occasionally are shown the in-person audience, who are wearing masks and distanced within the theater. There is a section towards the beginning in which the Dame talks directly to the audience, cracking jokes and doing shoutouts that have been sent in. They also let you vote online to name the hammer (you have to see it to understand) during the interval. 

While it's not the same as being there in person, it's a great way to adapt it to 2020. The show opens with messages from different panto dames, counting down to the show starting. And once the show starts, they don't dance around Covid either -- addressing it in jokes head-on. 

Whether you watch it by yourself, with your family, or watch it at the same time as a friend or loved one that you're physically separated from, The Snow Queen is a fun way to get into the holiday spirit.

I was given a press ticket to this show for the purposes of review, but all opinions are my own. 

Photo Credit: Mike Kwasniak

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