Somerset Fellowship of Drama
The Cinderella Trophy Competition 2018/19
The Snow Queen performed by Failand Drama Circle
And we’re off… First off the blocks for the 2018/19 pantomime season is Failand Drama Circle with Alan Frayn’s Snow Queen. It has been a few years since I was last at Failand Village Hall and I was very much looking forward to seeing this show as it is a script I am very familiar with having directed this very script two years ago in my own village. Thank you so much for the warm welcome and the lovely interval cups of tea for my wife and me.
The starting point for any show is the choice of a good script. This Alan Frayn vehicle is a clever adaptation of an old Hans Christian Andersen tale which on the face of it seems an unlikely candidate for the pantomime genre. But Frayn has been imaginative in his adaptation. With most panto the storyline is so simple (and well-known) that the tale is easily understood by everyone, even the youngest kids; this tale is slightly more complex so the introduction of the Andersen character to narrate the story is a clever ruse to make sure we, the audience, know what is unfolding as the story whips along at a heady pace. The introduction of a good fairy character (Snowdrop), a henchman (Hendrik) and, of course, a dame (Granny Fanny Annie) mean that we are firmly in the realm of pantomime, even if the usual romantic elements are in short supply and there is no opportunity for a slapstick scene.
One of the appeals of the story is also one of its headaches for the director. Because we are on a journey we meet loads of different characters. You coped nicely with this by doubling up and by using principals in the chorus at times. On the whole that worked really well, I thought. You used the opportunity to give some of your very talented youngsters key parts and I liked how you even created two roles from one in the sweet shop scene to give even more of the youngsters a chance to show their talents. With all of the inexperienced performers, and I’m not just talking about the youngsters here, some work on acting skills would have been beneficial so that their characters come to life rather than staying two-dimensional. I know how difficult it can be and time constraints mean you can’t always achieve everything you would like to, but it’s something that’s worth thinking about for the future.
I thought you got the balance between singing and dialogue just about perfect and the show had a good pace to it. I think perhaps we missed a little audience interaction, particularly in Act 2. There were certainly come key elements there – the response to the dame, the ‘behind you’ sequence and so on, but I felt a little more audience participation would have been good. This may, in part, be one of the weaknesses of Frayn’s adaptation in that the linkman role (Helmut) did not have as much audience interaction as is usually the case. You also missed out the house number, which on balance was probably the right decision, but it does afford an opportunity to get us punters involved.
There is a lot of humour in this script and I felt some more of it could have been drawn out. I liked the injection of a few current references and perhaps one or two local gags wouldn’t have gone amiss. It takes a lot of experience and confidence to deliver top-class comedy and with quite a few debutantes some of the humour may have been slightly compromised. But that, of course is the nature of village pantomime and, to be honest, one of its joys.
I loved your expansive stage extension that turned a small stage into a substantial one for the size of the hall. That was great, although it had the effect of pushing the tabs to centre stage and so you performed much of the show without using tabs. Although this is de rigueur in modern theatre, it doesn’t necessarily work well in pantomime where continuity of action traditionally helps keep the fast pace going and the fun coming! If you do opt not to use the tabs then it helps to be creative in the crossovers between scenes. You need to maintain character and strive for those really effective entrances and exits, even when the lights have faded: we can still see you! That said, you used very effective musical links and the set changes were very efficient so there were no long gaps.
Overall, I thought all the ingredients were there and a little tightening up here and there would have made a good show into a really great one. You most certainly created an enjoyable evening of entertainment.
Music and Choreography
My goodness, you have some strong voices at Failand! I was very impressed by your choral numbers with some lovely harmonies and counter-melodies producing some wonderful effects. Voices were clear, mostly everyone was fully engaged and it was great to see young people performing to such great effect. You had very efficient accompaniment too. In some ways it was a shame your little two-piece orchestra was hidden behind the curtain, but in other ways it meant that the balance between accompaniment and singing was just right with the music being loud enough to hear without overwhelming and drowning out the singing. As well as making good use of the band to link the scenes, you also created some effective background atmospherics in one or two of the scenes.
You kept the choreography very simple, although it was effective nonetheless. Perhaps a bit more ambition would have been good as you have a very able and talented chorus who I’ll bet could dance more as well as sing if given the challenge!
Turning to your choice of music, you chose some lovely songs to suit your talented singers’ talents. Overall I would have liked to see one or two more lively numbers to get the audience clapping along and to keep the pace up. I liked the combination of older and more recent tunes so that everybody could relate to the songs. And you were spot on in keeping most of the songs short so they didn’t hamper the action and slow down the overall pace. And you had one or two really lovely solos. So overall, I thought the musical elements were one of the strengths of the show.
Stage and Technical Management
I loved the stage extension that transformed what you are able to achieve on stage. Added to that, you had some wonderful backdrops which, although you kept them to a minimum by reuse in various scenes, were very effective. Your use of periaktos flats led to very slick scene changes and you had some lovely effects such as the window in the interior of Granny’s attic flat looking out on the mountains behind. I would have loved to have seen some falling snow! What a magical effect that would have been. I loved the mountain backdrop and I thought the interior of the ice palace was cool (do you see what I did there?) although it was a shame we could see it through the gauze during the scene with the Old Lapp Lady.
Your sound throughout was spot on with personal radio mikes ensuring we could hear every word. The balance of the music and accompaniment was just right and the sound effects were well- sourced, effective, with perfect cueing and at just the right volume. Not sure we can ask for anything more, really!
The lights, too were effective enough and cueing was mostly good there too, but I did think you could have been a bit more imaginative on occasion. I know that budget constraints in village shows mean that you can not always do everything you want to do but even within those constraints you can create some magical moments. In the opening scene you had a fixed spot for Hans and I wonder whether use of the follow spot to highlight the Snow Queen and her partners in crime would have been effective with all the other lighting faded out. Similarly, darker and more menacing lighting during the forest scenes – especially the ‘behind you’ sequence – would have enhanced the action. And wouldn’t it have been wonderful to have some sort of special effect during the ‘Northern Lights’ sequence? I know I’m being pernickety but a few special effects go a long way. A good example of this were the two smoke jets that you used for the Snow Queen and Snowdrop; very simple but effectively deployed. That was a nice touch.
There were other nice touches too: the sledge pulled by the delightful Snow Geese was wonderful, Hans’ lectern was very effective and you had a delightful array of props. One comment about the props: I thought the sweets could have been a bit bigger in the sweet shop scene. As a rule of thumb, pantomime props should be larger than life. So instead of a small jar of liquorice allsorts, for example, you could have used a giant box. Again, I’m being pernickety, but you’d be surprised what a big difference such attention to detail can make.
Costumes and Make up
This is a pantomime like no other and so raiding the costume cupboard is unlikely to yield much that can be used again from previous shows. I suspect there was a lot of hard work involved in creating the Scandinavian look. All in all I thought it was splendid. Only one or two costumes didn’t work for me. I thought Olaf’s costume was a bit too realistic. This is panto! Everything should be over-the-top, quirky and, where possible, aimed at getting a laugh! I also thought the costumes for Henrik and the Trolls weren’t right for the setting. I would have liked you to build on the ice theme with costumes in cold colours possibly with silver or blue wigs to complement the Snow Queen and the wintry set.
But I loved seeing all the variety of costumes for the dame – outrageous dame’s costumes are the very stuff of pantomime! I also loved your use of wigs and the tiaras for the opposing supernaturals. And with such a lot of costumes for the different locations, the costume team certainly had their work cut out for them and they did wonderfully well!
I also thought that make up hit the mark and there were some nice details such as the face gems. Lovely stuff.
The Youth Chorus
Well, there was wide range of ages on display and shedloads of talent! I loved the fact that many of you doubled up and had speaking roles and a lot of lines to say. It gave you all a great opportunity to showcase your talent and, in the case of the Snow Geese your immeasurable cuteness! In short, you were splendid!
The Snow Queen
This was an impressive performance in what I think is a terrific role for a female villain. It gives you the opportunity to be menacing without being shouty; true terror often comes from icy viciousness. Terrific. You sang well and your interaction with the audience started well although I thought you let it slip a little as the show progressed. Keep working on the audience and force them to show how much they hate you! Still, a fine performance.
A formidable fairy! You have good stage presence and a lovely singing voice. This was a fine performance indeed.
Dame Granny Fanny Annie
Ah, the dame! The very essence of pantomime! I thought you captured all the key elements of the role and I felt it was a shame you didn’t have a comedy song, although you did have that lovely little dance in your opening monologue. A couple of pointers, if I may. You move a lot around the stage especially during your monologues. Stillness is a source of strength so try to curb that temptation. By all means cover the stage to draw in the whole audience, but do so in a more considered and calmer way. And keep that audience interaction going throughout. Draw us in. You played the role as a sort of dowager duchess, which is fair enough I suppose, although I think the dame often works best as a rather common ‘working class’ old biddy who has had a bit of a tough life. Something to ponder. Still, a fun portrayal.
Any romantic element is very much downplayed in this tale and so the principal boy role, which is essentially what your character is, has to be played somewhat differently from normal. And I thought you did it splendidly. You fully embraced the change in Kai’s character from loveable and fun to aggressive and obnoxious and we could see you drift between those two states as the Snow Queen put her spell on you. And your rendition of This is Me was truly super. A really good performance. Very well done indeed.
The principal girl role in panto is often centred around the romantic element; not so in this show. The key feature of this show is your intrepid journey in a plot that turns traditional panto on its head: the leading girl heads off to rescue the leading man and not the other way around! It means that you have a lot to learn as you are on stage for much of the time throughout the show and you mastered that really well, no mean feat! This was a fine performance because we really were on your side and willing you on, a sign that you had won us over and that is crucial in a role like this. Keep at it because I can see great things ahead.
The linkman role is designed to move the tale along and keep the audience in stitches. I think the author let you down a little with some pretty feeble gags, to be honest, but you had a certain likeability that is essential to the role and that served you well. Try and keep that audience rapport going; panto is a special genre in that the audience are not only there to watch, but to get involved as well. Eye contact is essential, friendly gestures and a few asides. All of that works wonders in getting the audience on board. But all in all, a decent performance. I liked it!
Hans Christian Andersen
The addition of a ‘narrator’ is a clever ploy to allow the audience to follow a relatively complex plot. I got the impression you were slightly under-rehearsed as your occasional reliance on a prompt demonstrated! Perhaps I would have liked to see you act the role a tad more rather than simply narrate it, but it may be that the director was not looking for that. Nevertheless, acting out the role helps to imbue it with a sense of purpose that simple narration does not always provide, and that, in turn, can lead to more confident delivery. Worth considering for the future.
An enigmatic role as the hippie leader, I enjoyed your performance. I felt you captured the essence of slightly out-of-this-world hippiedom! Well done.
A true lover of nature! I enjoyed your interaction with the ‘flowers’, your kind-hearted persona and your slight whackiness! You performed with confidence and style and I, for one, was impressed. Well done.
Another role for a younger performer and I thought you made a fine fist of it. Perhaps a little more thought about the character of the role you were playing may have helped you give a slightly more nuanced performance and I think that may be something you should think about for next time. But overall, you did really well and you most definitely looked the part from head to toe!
The Robber Chief
A cameo role but confidently performed. Well done.
Henrik & Ziggy
The fact that you were playing two roles, Eddy, allowed you to show your versatility. I have already mentioned my reservations about your costume and I think maybe a more appropriate costume would have allowed you to develop the Henrik role even more. But, putting that to one side, you performed both roles splendidly. You are clearly experienced and confident with lots of stage presence. Very well done.
I thought you both did well, delivering your lines with confidence which is exactly what the director wants. Good stuff.
I was extremely impressed by the confidence of your delivery considering your age. I think you have a great future ahead of you and look forward to seeing you in more roles in years to come.
Benny and Bjorn
Timing is the key to good comedy and I thought you both were splendid in your delivery in this very funny sweetshop skit. Well done both!
Olaf & Rufus
Again, Steve, two contrasting roles. I liked your portrayal as poor old hard-done-by Rufus and your indignant retorts when people noticed you were a reindeer! I thought you played the role well and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Well! What a cracking performance. You were able to take that cameo role and make it into one of the highlights of a show in which there were loads of great moments. You certainly know how to work an audience and get the laughs. I loved it!
The Old Lapp Lady
You did exactly what it says on the tin and what more can a director ask for? Good stuff.
This was a great little show and the audience reaction was testimony to that. The good people of Failand are very fortunate indeed to have such a talented bunch putting on such wonderful entertainment and I hope it continues for a very long time. There are areas where a little tweaking would undoubtedly help but the essence of good panto is there, the crowd was happy, the performers did themselves proud and the feel-good factor was palpable. Well done all.