Even though the animated classic is a Christmas staple, the thing that we all remember most from The Snowman is the iconic song “Walking in the Air” (and subsequently the iconic Irn Bru adverts it inspired). It’s easy to forget the story that comes with it. Based on the children's book, the thirty-minute TV special has been adapted into an hour and forty-five-minute ballet performance, and the simple story of friendship has been stretched in every direction to meet its run time.
And in the first half, it shows. In an age when children’s entertainment is held to an epic standard, a smaller story can be refreshing. When the exciting moments of the show feature a boy struggling to pull on his trousers however, one can’t help but wonder how small you can go before the audience loses interest. There is humour to be found there, but the performances and direction aren’t sharp enough to produce the farcical flare it strives for. Stocking-filler scenes like watching the snowman and the boy flicking between channels on the television and a psychedelic dancing fruit sequence leave you wondering whether there really isn’t anything more exciting we could be looking at.
The second half picks up the excitement drastically, with international travels, mischievous villains and a familiar figure in a red coat and a white beard. Even so, the casting poses a dilemma. The Boy is well-played by Max Goodridge, but there is an inescapable drawback of having a man in a heavy, sweaty costume and a young child as the stars of your show. Neither of them can dance as well as their co-stars. As such, there is a reliance on the supporting cast to do the heavy lifting. Fortunately, they do so marvellously, and the stage is awash with sparkling characters and sublime choreography, all swept up by a spine-tingling score.
Elements of the performance (which has been revived annually by the Birmingham Rep since 1993) have not aged well. Being reflective of art as being of its time is a pill to swallow when that art is unchanging. When you have the chance to edit and reconsider the karate-kicking kimonoed snowman, or the painful damsel-in-distress narrative, some responsibility must be taken for preserving them. Unlike classic ballets of old that have stricter characterisations and relationships, The Snowman is under fifty years old. Changes could have been made to suit modern attitudes.
The Snowman contains some fun moments and visuals that are frequently enchanting. In spite of its poor pacing and badly-aged stereotypes, this dance adaptation gives audiences what they want from a Christmas show. It may not be snowing just yet, but it’s not too early to watch something that gives you that warm, fuzzy feeling inside. Three stars.
Whispers form the audience:
“Really really good, it was clever how they told the story without any words”
“My favourite was Jack Frost!”
“Mine was the ballerina!”