Reviewed by Nina Chester
I am so lucky to live close to Nottingham as it has two amazing theatres, but what I didn’t realise until today is that there is another; a true gem. Djanogly Theatre, Lakeside Arts is set within the grounds of The University of Nottingham. I parked the car in the free carpark and walked to the door, the lake is set in front of the building and people were enjoying the outside space, the ducks comical as always.
We were here to see the opening performance of The Snow Dragon.
The Snow Dragon is a story that was written by the performing theatre company ‘Tall Stories’. It has been performed globally since 2005. In a somewhat backward way, the play came first and was then turned into a picture book with the illustrator Anna Lewenhaupt. Amazingly this illustration of the Dragon is recreated above our heads near the theatre doors. In wood and paper and lights the most breathtaking mythical creature looks on.
My daughter and I were greeted by friendly box office staff. The excited chatter of small children was delightful, when a three-year-old ran into my daughter the teacher apologized, saying ‘we have just been on a bus, that was excitement enough’ help I thought, just how are these little ones going to sit through an hour of live theatre. Well my worries were completely unfounded. The auditorium was at near capacity. There was a Year Two group; so, six to seven-year olds. And the afore mentioned nursery group. The teacher who had organized the year twos explained to me how this performance fitted in with the national curriculum. The children had been working hard on looking at fairy stories how they evolve and how modern twists are added. They are also working on their Christmas performance, but still she told me that some of the children had no concept of live theatre and asked her when the film was starting!
The Snow Dragon was perfectly crafted production. All the characters are animals, but minimal costumes were used to convey this. The three actors (Robert Penny, Stephanie Lyse and Steve McCourt) who play seven parts slipped into character with a cape with ears to become the wolf or a simple splaying of fingers to become hooves. The story works on many levels and for this reason I wouldn’t put an age on it. I am closer to my pension than I am to school age and I loved it. Every little person was captivated, and I feel sure the children weren’t handpicked for the good behavior. The Snow Dragon made them attentive. So, the story is of a world of animals who all have the same basic idea of what New Year’s Eve will bring. It paroled our Christmas eve but by choosing a ubiquitous date it moved the story away from one belief system.
Billy (Robert Penny) the only actor to remain in same role is a young very spoilt and not very pleasant goat. A Kid. He is sent by his parents to collect berries to leave out for the Snow Dragon who will exchange them for a wonderful gift. Billy is nervous of the woods; wolves apparently particularly enjoy curried goat! Billy however wants the gift and wants to please his parents he sets out on his quest bag over his shoulder and after an encouraging song where Billy’s dancing and gymnastics were a delight to watch. He finds himself on the top of a hill where he bumps into a school friend a short-sighted cute Hedgehog called Spike. Spike is reluctant to associate with Billy as Spikes Mother has told him not to. If I were Spikes Mother, I am sure I would have done the same. Spike doesn’t want to be unfriendly and when Billy offers to help him collect mushrooms for the Unicorn who will visit and leave gifts that night for the little hedgehog. Billy is adamant that Spike is wrong and only the Snow dragon is real. But he points out mushrooms and when the bag is full, he reverts to character and steals the now full sack and dispenses of Spike in a typical goat like manner. Billy carries on his journey. He meets a piglet Rosie who tells Billy that she is out collecting acorns to leave for the troll. History repeats itself.
Billy is lost and scared deep in the woods the wolves find him and tell him some home truths. This is edge of your seat stuff. We feel Billy’s fear but somehow are rooting for the wolves!!! Just how does that happen. This was deep profound moralistic story telling that every three-year-old understood. It was brilliant.
Billy picks his way home, undoing his bad deeds as far as possible. He has not had good parenting but learns that he is the master of his own fate, he is empowered by his adventure.
Then the true magic of the performance happens. I swallowed a lump in my throat.
There was an ending that allowed the audience to fill in the blanks for themselves, it gave us the opportunity to reflect and draw our own simple conclusions.
It was delightful, full of dance and music even the opportunity to shout ITS BEHIND YOU! and set in on a simple stage it didn’t bombard us with special effects. It felt like reading a book.
A great show for kids and grown-ups alike.
Tickets cost from £8.50 (booking fees may apply).
The Snow Dragon is at the Lakeside Arts Djanogly Theatre in Nottingham from 27 November to 31 December 2019, for more information or to book tickets visit www.lakesidearts.org.uk or call the box office on 0115 846 7777.
Nottingham Lakeside Arts, University Park, Nottingham, NG7 2RD | 0115 846 7777