Creating Arendelle: behind the scenes on 'Frozen'
From ice-shards and video walls, to Austrian crystals and hieroglyphs, Frozen has it all. Go behind the scenes of this musical at Theatre Royal Drury Lane.
Disney’s Frozen has been captivating audiences in the West End since it arrived at Theatre Royal Drury Lane in 2021, and that is largely thanks to designer Christopher Oram, who has combined intricate design, cutting-edge technology, and meticulous craftsmanship to bring this spell-binding story to the London stage.
Proscenium: A Gateway to Frozen’s World
Scale has been a large factor in determining the West End show’s success. "The Broadway houses tend to be more intimate, but here [at Theatre Royal Drury Lane] the set stands wider, bigger and deeper, so you can really get a sense of distance from it," says Oram. This is felt in the show’s proscenium, a meticulously crafted portal adorned with hieroglyphics depicting iconic Disney animated movies. It weighs a colossal 7,000kg. The proscenium’s unique finish, developed by scenic artist Richard Nutborne, comes from a process called ‘flocking’, in which small fibres are glued to the surface. Behind this artistic façade, LED video tiles create the proscenium’s ‘frozen’ appearance.
Technological Marvel: Upstage Video Wall
Frozen’s huge set pieces don’t end there. At the heart of the musical’s visual spectacle is the upstage video wall, a technological wonder that transports the audience to wintery Arendelle and contains over 4.5 million individual LED lights. With a resolution equivalent to a 4K TV, this giant display includes 280 individual tiles and over 4.7 million pixels.
Dazzling Effects: Crystal Curtains and Ice Strike
The crystal curtains of Elsa’s ice palace are also a lesson in intricate design on a large scale, with the main curtain using over 21,300 Austrian crystals. Oram’s design, however, has a lot more going for it than simply the size of its set. The ice strike, which occurs at Elsa’s coronation when her suppressed powers set off eternal winter in Arendelle, sees giant shards of ice plunge into the palace floor at up to 2.7 meters per second. Now that’s fast.
Frozen Landscapes: Fjord Ice Legs and Ice Walls
The fjord ice legs, which tower over the stage and capture Norway’s glacial landscape, mirror the complexity of the proscenium. Constructed from layers of Perspex, these giant structures enhance the clarity of video elements within, each piece vacuum-formed to showcase a custom-carved rock surface. The ice walls use over 2500 LED lights, allowing the stage to transform from regal halls to a frozen landscape in seconds.
Costumes and Wigs: Crafting Elegance
"There’s very little on stage, if anything, that’s generic," says Oram. In fact, everything is custom-made, except for the socks, a few pairs of shoes, and the men’s gloves. In a production that has 154 costumes on stage during the course of the show, that’s a lot of work. It takes 41 days alone for one person to bead Elsa’s ice dress, which includes 954 sewn-on stones and 10,800 crystal beads. There are also about 75 wigs in Frozen, seven of which belong to Anna, who manages quick changes of between five and 10 seconds for three of her wigs. With Elsa’s hair falling to an incredible 56cm, heavy is the head that wears the crown.
Oram’s winter wonderland is a feast for the eyes, from the dramatic set pieces which span the entire length of Theatre Royal Drury Lane’s expansive stage to the microscopic detail given to Elsa’s ice dress. It truly is a theatrical spectacle like no other.
Building Frozen’s ‘Endless’ Ice Bridge
Anne Quart, Executive Producer, Disney Theatrical Group: "For our original Broadway production of Frozen, the brilliant Christopher Oram designed a spectacular ice bridge, a monumental piece of scenery that became a focal point in that version of the show.
When assessing how the production would fit into the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, renowned for having one of the largest stages in the world, Christopher saw a chance to take the ice bridge to new heights, both figuratively and literally.
In adapting it for London, we expanded the ice bridge to an impressive 70 feet in length, far exceeding the dimensions of our proscenium. This enhancement allowed us to introduce a dynamic element to the show – so, instead of revealing itself all at once, the bridge reveals itself slowly, supporting the telling of our story as our heroes travel to see Elsa. Through its movement the bridge moves gracefully from left to right, taking the audience on the extensive journey of Anna and Kristoff. It’s a captivating visual experience as the bridge keeps unfolding, making full use of the expansive backstage area.
To achieve this, Christopher delivered true Disney magic, by engineering a bridge that seems to go on and on and on. Its final footprint is much greater than that of a traditional scenery piece and because of its length and size, leaves the audience with a sense of wonder as the story unfolds."
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Photo credits: backstage on Frozen. (Photos courtesy of production)
This article first appeared in the January 2024 issue of London Theatre Magazine.
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