Be warned: if you go to an afternoon performance of Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman, at Sadler’s Wells’ Peacock Theatre, you won’t find a reverent audience, hushed in awe and shhhsh-ing at every rustle. Apart from Pantomimes, The Snowman has become possibly the most popular Christmas theatrical event for families. The Birmingham Repertory Performance is now in its 22nd consecutive year at the central London venue. When we watched it on a Sunday afternoon, the auditorium was full of excited four, five and six year olds. They spent the performance noisily waving Snowman glitter-sticks and munching chocolate muffins from the theatre cafe.
But the buzz of chatter in the audience doesn’t overshadow the on-stage action, or Howard Blake’s music. The live orchestra elevated it above the audience’s din, and there was a collective audience gasp when the score moved into a rendition of the old favourite, ‘Walking in the Air’. The Snowman Peacock Theatre is based on Raymond Briggs’ book, as well as the film directed by Dianne Jackson and produced by John Coates. So it brings in some Christmas elements to the book’s story, like a meeting with Santa Claus. 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 The Snowman at Sadler’s Wells, the Boy builds a snowman. He wakes in the night to find him transformed into a living, breathing creature. 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. There’s a fun section where life-size fruit comes tumbling out of the kitchen fridge, and pirouettes around. A sweet dance sequence features a life-size soldier, jewellery-box ballerina and teddy bear. I could have done without an inexplicable segment where the Boy and Snowman find a light switch and switch it on and off to create disco lighting, then begin to ‘rave’.
The Boy and his new friend venture outdoors (“but he doesn’t have any gloves on!” – this from my four-year-old daughter). They move through a series of charming vignettes, meeting woodland creatures, a fairy, other Snowmen (including a rambustious Scottish version, clad in a kilt) and a menacing Jack Frost, who had my daughter requesting to leave the auditorium.
How long is The Snowman show?
The Peacock Theatre performance of The Snowman was one hour and forty minutes, including an interval. The second half was shorter, with more ensemble dance pieces and flying sequences (impressive stuff, especially for the actor playing the Boy, who looked no older than 12, and who must have had high levels of stamina).
Snowman Peacock Theatre age range
The Snowman is advertised as being suitable for all ages. The plot was a simple one, with no dialogue and easy to digest by an audience of four- to six-year olds. But the complex dance routines, flying and eye-catching set all make it suitable for older audiences, too. My seven-year-old son said that he enjoyed it. He didn’t, though, seem quite as transfixed by the theatrical magic as my younger daughter. 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 it with my small family, completely enchanting.
Sadlers Wells gave us family tickets to the show for the purpose of this post.
You might also like to read our review of Stick Man at London’s Leicester Square Theatre.
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.