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'The Snowman' review – this Christmas treat remains a magical introduction to theatre and dance

Read our four-review of The Snowman, the dance adaptation of Raymond Briggs's beloved tale, now in performances at the Peacock Theatre to 30 December.

Marianka Swain
Marianka Swain

This is the 26th year that this utterly charming dance version of The Snowman has played at Sadler’s Wells’ West End house, the Peacock Theatre, adapted from Raymond Briggs’s 1978 picture book and the 1982 TV animation. Yet it’s still lapped up by a spellbound audience of children and their nostalgic parents.

This expanded version of the indelible tale was first seen at Birmingham Rep in 1993, with Howard Blake creating extra music for Bill Alexander’s production. Now, with delightful choreography by Robert North, it’s very much part of London’s Christmas tradition.

Since the show has no dialogue, only (easily followed) narrative movement, it’s wholly accessible for kids of all ages. It’s a very relaxed audience too; no one minds if a child calls out. In fact, that’s part of the joy: watching a new generation fall in love with both theatre and dance.

It begins with The Boy (I saw a confident, expressive Oliver Benson) waking up to a fresh fall of snow. Thrilled, he rushes out in his wellies to stomp and play, before building his snowman by rolling an icy ball to gather up snow for the body (and, with a simple but pleasing theatrical trick, one ball is swapped for a larger one – the girl sitting behind me loved this).

That night, The Snowman comes to life. The initial sequence, featuring room-by-room slapstick, goes on too long, with scene changes dragging the pace. But there are fun elements, such as a limbo contest with tropical fruit, and toys also becoming animated – a marching soldier, a whistling train, and a wind-up music box ballerina. Everything is scaled up, giving us the child’s point of view.

The Snowman is riveting throughout, wonderfully inhabited by Martin Fenton. He’s a mix of courteous gentleman, bowing to The Boy when they first meet, and endearingly clumsy animal with a wide, heavy tread. He chortles with his whole body, and waggles his butt at the refreshingly cool fridge.

But he also dances nimbly. The transporting second half is set in the North Pole, where Father Christmas (a superb Ryan Upton) arrives on a sleigh pulled by reindeer, more Snowmen enter the tale – including a ninja version and a Fred Astaire – and our Snowman majestically partners the Ice Princess in a lovely pas de deux.

There’s a good introduction to numerous dance styles, in fact, including folk and tango. But surely most of the audience will go home dreaming of becoming that classic music box or princess ballerina, both gorgeously danced by Laura Boulter. Barry Drummond is also compelling as the lithe, scheming Jack Frost, with his silver leggings and shock of spiky blue hair.

He injects a note of drama, but there’s nothing too scary here. Instead, there’s a gleeful sense of fun – such as when The Snowman whizzes in and out of the trees on a motorbike – and, most potently, sheer awe.

We know The Boy longs to fly (his room is crowded with toy planes), and suddenly he does, accompanied by “Walking in the Air”. He and The Snowman are serene and majestic, legs pedalling through the clouds, or swooping towards earth. As they wave at “the people far below”, an enthralled audience waves back.

Ruari Murchison’s designs bring the picture book to life, right down The Boy’s blue striped pyjamas and dressing gown, and Blake’s score is buoyantly played by a live band. A light effect pleasantly evokes flakes falling in a snow globe.

Some elements do feel dated, like the very binary gender roles. But otherwise this lovingly crafted show holds up as a gentle Christmas treat – one that lets your imagination take flight.

The Snowman is at the Peacock Theatre through 30 December. Book The Snowman tickets on London Theatre.

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Photo credit: The Snowman (Photo by The Other Richard)

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