'The Snow Child' review or 'We'll need a bigger freezer.'

The Snow Child, Dancing Brick
Unicorn Theatre, 25th November 2015

Here’s something new I learned about children yesterday: put a ball pit in front of them and they are going to find it very hard to concentrate. Dancing Brick’s production ‘The Snow Child’ is a gorgeous and delicate show but it takes actors Valentina Ceschi and Thomas Eccleshare quite a while to reel the little ones in. ‘Snow Child’ is a nuanced tale about a young couple who craft a child out of snow and then despair as the seasons change and the child begins to melt away. It’s actually pretty dark but the kids are so busy lobbing snow balls into the pit on stage that it takes some time for this piece to transform from ‘play time’ into a play.

The opening is exquisitely gentle – perhaps a little too so – as Eccleshare and Ceschi (who have a gorgeous chemistry together) play about in their pit of foam snow balls. Above them, peeking out from James Button’s mountainous backdrop, an oboist (Harry Blake) plays wistfully romantic music. The overall effect is as soft as snow. The actors don’t say a word and, whilst this creates a generous and open atmosphere, it also means the children take a while to settle. It takes a good few scenes before we feel this young audience is properly ‘inside’ the show.  

Eccleshare and Ceschi gradually transform their puppet snow child – essentially a collection of foam balls wrapped up in clothes – into a living and breathing person. The more interaction that takes place, the more human this snow-ball child becomes. The child makes its ‘parents’ laugh or giggle and suddenly it seems to have a spirit all of its own. It’s quite a delicate message really; the idea that our identities are formed by the relationships we have with others. Of course, there’s no way the little ones will be thinking all of this but it’s fascinating to watch their relationship with the story change, as the stage transforms from a place of fun into something warm, familiar and loving.

As is so often the case, the show only completely captures the kids when things turn a little ugly.  There’s nothing like a little danger to transfix a toddler. The seasons change, the sun burns and the snow begins to melt. Everything passes. There’s a brilliant moment when one particularly adventurous kid – who can’t resist creeping up to the edge of the ball-pit – is shocked by a flower that suddenly springs up out of the stage. The kid jumps back in fright and the audience giggles. It’s a moment I suspect that child won’t forget: don’t get too cocky, kid, the stage and the world is full of surprises and you never know what might spring up next.  

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