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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me on Twitter at MarkFFisher, WriteAboutTheat and LimelightXTC I am a freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers. I am also editor of The XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls: A Limelight Anthology. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide.
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Thursday, December 09, 2010

The Snow Queen, theatre review

Published in The Guardian

The Snow Queen
Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh
4 out of 5

Theatregoers in Scotland used to have a simple choice at this time of year. Either they went to a traditional pantomime or to one of Stuart Paterson's Christmas shows: big-hearted fables that preferred psychological realism to slapstick and narrative complexity to stock plots. About five years ago, for no obvious reason and despite their popularity, Paterson's plays all but disappeared.

In this, the coldest winter of all, it seems all the more appropriate that the Royal Lyceum has rediscovered The Snow Queen, even if the play's promises of better weather to come draw desperate cheers from an audience a little too familiar with the snow flurries Paterson calls "the swarming of the white bees".

In this telling, the chilling Hans Christian Andersen tale becomes a great feminist saga. Less interested in the coming-of-age journey of Mark Prendergast's Kay, Paterson focuses on Helen Mackay's Gerda. Her pure-hearted attempt to rescue her friend from the sexually warped clutches of Allison McKenzie's blue-lipped Snow Queen demands courage and valour. She is serious, likable and true.

Paterson's nods to panto-style comedy can seem stiff and half-hearted (though this show has a particularly funny band of robbers), and he could have explored more fully the relationship between Gerda and Kay. But Mark Thomson's production picks up a breakneck pace as it hurtles towards the interval, paving the way for an unsettling second half in which Paterson, drawing deep on mythology, introduces talking animals and voices from the dead to add to the gravitas of little Gerda's quest.

It is not as lavishly presented as the Lyceum's Patersons of a decade ago, but the performances enliven a deep and urgent story, reminding us of what we've been missing.

© Mark Fisher 2010

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