In 1978 Raymond Briggs published his wordless children’s book, The Snowman. Diane Jackson turned the book into an animated film that aired on Boxing Day in 1982 and while the rest, as they say, is history, the story doesn’t end there. The sequel to this much-loved classic will be the centrepiece of this year’s Channel 4 Christmas schedule… but it is not that part of its story that concerns us here.
Back in 1993, artistic director of the Birmingham Rep, Bill Alexander, asked Howard Blake to help him develop The Snowman into a stage show. Few would argue that it was Blake’s magnificent score that brought the charming film its iconic status, so this was an astute move. Blake suggested it should become a ballet: he wrote more music and, along with choreographer and co-creator Robert North, developed new characters.
A further smart manoeuvre saw it co-produced by Sadler’s Wells and performed at their Peacock Theatre in the West End of London. It has run there every Christmas since 1997 and is now the longest running and most successful Christmas show in England’s capital. This year, to the delight of audiences north of the border, it brings its magic once more to Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre.
There is not much of a plot, the story centred not in action but in the relationship that develops between a boy and the snowman he builds one day. After one fleeting night of adventure, the Boy wakes the next morning to find the Snowman has melted. In the film, the credits roll as the Boy weeps over the watery remains of his friend.
The stage production is as faithful to the film as it can be, given that it is over four times as long, and just manages to retain some of the magic of the original. The set, lighting and costumes all contribute to the tone, which is pitched just right, in a suspended reality somewhere between picture-book drawings and cartoon cut-outs.
The performances are all excellent, with special credit reserved for the loping, lolloping Snowman who, from inside a padded suit of snow, has to portray all feeling through movement alone, and the Boy who perfectly captures the necessary innocence, delight and pathos. At ‘the’ moment – the one where the opening bars of Walking In The Air starts up as the Snowman and Boy slowly lift off the ground to begin their now-epic flight, the audience burst into spontaneous applause and cheering that helped to produce a real tingling moment.
This stage version ended with a beautiful scene of hope, when the weeping Boy, on realising it has started to snow once more, throws back his head and opens his arms wide to embrace this promise of new opportunities. While there is, admittedly, a little unnecessary padding here and there, it is a beautiful and engaging Christmassy show that will appeal to the very young, the very old and many in between.
Runs til 30 Dec