Apart from Pantomimes, Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman, at Sadler’s Wells’ Peacock Theatre, has become possibly the most popular Christmas theatre event for families. The Birmingham Repertory Performance is now in its 22nd consecutive year. It’s a magical peformance, full of whimsy, humour, and beautiful Christmas cheer.
Sadler’s Wells sent us family press tickets for the purpose of this review.
The Snowman is the ultimate family-friendly theatre show. All are welcome, including tiny babies. So you won’t find a hushed, reverent audience in London’s Peacock Theatre. But when we watched The Snowman in a Saturday morning, the low buzz of chatter in the audience, and the occasional baby’s cry didn’t overshadow the on-stage action, or Howard Blake’s music. The live orchestra managed to play at the right level: loud enough to be heard above the audience, but not too blaring.
And the audience did pause at some points. When the score moved into a rendition of the old favourite, ‘Walking in the Air’, there was a collective gasp as the Snowman and the Boy soared into the air. It was an emotional moment. Both my Mother-in-law and I felt tears spring to our eyes. And my seven year-old daughter and her friend were completely entranced. The acting, choreography and dancing were impressive, especially from nine year-old George Nearn Stuart, who played the Boy in our performance. He must have had a good deal of stamina.
What is The Snowman?
The Snowman Peacock Theatre is based on the book by Raymond Briggs, as well as the film directed by Dianne Jackson and produced by John Coates. So the theatre performance introduces some Christmassy elements from the film that aren’t in the book, like a meeting with Santa Claus.
In The Snowman at Sadler’s Wells, the Boy builds a snowman. He wakes in the night to find his creation transformed into a living, breathing person. The Boy shows the Snowman round his home, which involves a scratchy encounter with the family cat, and a near-miss when the Snowman gets too close to the fire, and starts to melt. The mime in these sections is excellent. Without dialogue, the characters manage to make the audience understand what’s happening – and to chuckle along in delight.
There’s a fun section where life-size fruit comes tumbling out of the fridge, and the Banana, Pineapple and Coconut pirouette around the kitchen. My daughter guffawed in delight at a segment where the Boy and Snowman find a light switch and switch it on and off to create disco lighting, then begin to ‘rave’. And a sweet dance sequence features a life-size Soldier, a jewellery-box Ballerina and a Teddy bear.
The Boy and his new friend venture outdoors. They move through a series of charming vignettes, with cute woodland creatures like rabbits, foxes and squirrels leaping around. My daughter enjoyed this section the most. The story evolves to include more Snowmen, including a feisty Scottish version, clad in a kilt. A menacing Jack Frost lurks in the background, and then attempts to steal the Ice Princess. In an ensemble dance piece, with some skilled ballet manoeuvres from the Princess and Jack Frost, the Scottish Snowman triumphs, and rescues the Princess.
It’s all very festive. Ruari Murchison’s set was presented in an appealing palate of neutral snow whites, with flashes of holly-berry red in the Boy’s toy plane and his jumper; and jewel-brights, like the creme de menthe coat of a carol singer. In a charming finale, ‘snow’ comes tumbling down onto the audience. A lot of the children leapt up from their seats at this point, to dance under the snow in the aisles.
How long is The Snowman show?
The Peacock Theatre performance of The Snowman is one hour and fifty minutes, including an interval. The second half is shorter, with more ensemble dance pieces and flying sequences.
Snowman Peacock Theatre age range
The Snowman is advertised as being suitable for all ages. The plot is a simple one, with no dialogue. But the complex dance routines, flying and eye-catching set all make it suitable for older audiences, too.
We’ve been to see The Snowman twice, and the first time my daughter was four. She thoroughly enjoyed it then, and was even more enthralled by the experience the second time round, aged seven. My son was also seven when he saw The Snowman, but he wasn’t quite as transfixed by the theatrical magic as my daughter. At that age, it would depend on the child, and over-tens may find the show a little young for their tastes.
But The Snowman is the sort of performance you grow back into; and, as an adult, I found the experience of watching, completely enchanting.
You might also like to read our review of Stick Man at London’s Leicester Square Theatre.
And don’t forget the good old Panto. Check out our guide to London Pantomimes 2019 here.
If you want to save your pennies so you can splurge on Christmas theatre for the family, why not check out our post on free things to do in London this Christmas.