Genre: Children’s Theatre
Venue: Shaw Theatre 100-110 Euston Road. London NW1 2AJ
Filskit Theatre’s production of Snow White portrays the character of Snow White as a real girl – as opposed to the black haired – white skinned character of Disney’s cartoon – who is fortunate enough to survive two persistently agile henchman. She’s also not the only one with a problem as the henchmen have their own dilemmas with trying to stay out of the deadly attention of their mistress, the wicked Queen. Unfortunately, for Snow White the Royal with murderous intent is also her mother. The character change from wicked stepmother of Disney’sSnow White to the mother in Filskit’s production is another bold element of the company’s interpretation of the classic tale .
As characters from ‘behind the mirror’, the two henchmen, played by Katy Costigan and Victoria Dyson, narrate Snow White’s life threatening situation and their roles in it. Whatever abstract ethical dilemmas they experience while ‘just following orders’ is made delightfully tangible for the young audience through the characters’ use of stylized movement and stage business as they confront and deal with a very likeable and energetic Snow White (Sarah Gee) .
The presentation of fairytale scenarios on stage has traditionally been the domain of pantomime productions. Filskit Theatre has certainly employed some pantomime comic elements to lighten what is a ‘dark’ story of infanticide gone wrong. However, the company’s use of film and, to use their own term, micro projection, give this Snow White an altogether more contemporary theatrical style. It is a form which in recent years has gained more and more interest from producers of children’s theatre as recent production such as 1927 Theatre Company and their production earlier this year of The Animals And Children Took To The Street at the Battersea Arts Centre.
Filskit’s Snow White is both visually beautiful and technically adventurous with its delicately placed projection of text and images on the bodies of the actors and many umbrellas that are used to depict various physical and emotional states.
The play is comprised of a team of five: three actors, a musician and a very visible stage hand (Alex Curry) who seems at all times to be utterly pleased to be making the various special effects on stage materialise. With his help, images twirl off bodies into the air, poisonous letters are instantly delivered and forest insects take flight.
The script is clever and metaphorically evocative, with a good use of Roald-Dahl-like grotesque imagery. The language has a strong rhythmic quality without employing the traditional pantomime rhyming couplets. The use of physical movement supports the language in often giving more metaphorical concepts a physical form: for instance, Snow White’s fear of finding herself in the woods is depicted not in words but through choreographed movement in which she wields an umbrella to mask and protect herself. Occasionally though, I felt that stillness might have been better used but that perhaps the actors didn’t quite trust that their young audience to remain engaged if they held back on the action.
The use of umbrellas as both part of the stage setting and as moveable stage props is particularly inventive. The umbrellas are also used as stage props: for instance, the henchmen use them as weapons in one of their many plots to ‘kill Snow White’.
One very large square umbrella representing the wall of Snow White’s room provides a sensational surface to view a shadow play. The audience is able to view a playful girl who is ‘just a girl’ behaving in a curiously child-like way. The shadow play also sets up the fact that Snow White speaks only through ‘body language’ and not words. The choice of depicting Snow White without speech and only through simple voiced sounds is another significant departure from tradition. It effectively defines her as a kind of ethereal being: a true ‘fairytale’ character.
Katy Costigan and Victoria Dyson perform the roles of the henchman with a mixture of acrobatic strength and comic exaggeration. Their energetic commitment to their roles give their performances moments of light relief ,which at times I felt strayed too far away from the darkness of the story, as if again they did not believe that their young audience could deal at least with ‘the truth’ of Snow White’s dilemma caused by parental ill-will (let alone murderous intent).
From my point of view, they could have dispensed with much of the pantomimic tricks of waving to the children since the production was sufficiently strong to allow them to engage and interact with the audience through the new technologies in possibly new ways.
Perhaps, the most unsatisfying part of the show was for me the music which seemed piecemeal, patchy and ‘small’ compared to the mood and atmosphere created by other element of the production. I believe that the show deserves a substantial soundtrack that meets up to its adventurous visual inventiveness. Composer and musician Melanie Borsack seemed inexplicably limited even though she was clearly a good musician with the ability to play many wind, percussion and string instruments.
Despite this, Filskit Theatre’s Snow White should please its producers Quirkas Productions with the way it engaged its young audience. Its fresh and vital interpretation of an iconic Disney character whose minders were seven dwarves and not two former henchmen is at times both curious and quirky. In other moments it transcends onto an epic plane that dares to show how some children (and henchmen) are able to surmount the evil intentions of their contexts and live ‘happily ever after’.
Reviewed by Josey De Rossi Viewed Tuesday 23rd August 2011