Credit: Joshua Tintner

Review: The Snow Queen

We brave the cold to check out Theater Anon's latest production.

Winter descends early upon Shanghai as Theatre Anon blows in to Anken Green’s rooftop space with a musical adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen: A Fairy Tale in Seven Stories. We head north through the blizzard to the palace of the Snow Queen… and return to tell the tale. Here’s what we saw.

It’s a Thursday evening, the first week of December, and opening night of Theatre Anon’s production of The Snow Queen: A Fairy Tale in Seven Stories at Anken Green’s rooftop theatre. Just over half-an-hour to show time and theatre co-founder and director Arran Hawkins makes his first appearance of the evening to greet a few of the early arrivals. Sharing some thoughts on the company’s beginnings back in 2013, Hawkins says, “When we started out, we wanted to put on higher quality theatre for a small audience in a space—mainly just to see if we could do it.”

Two years on and, in some respects, not much has changed. The rooftop space at Anken Green could, at best, be described as ‘cozy’—something which has proven to be a limitation for past productions here. But, it’s also an aspect of the venue which has made it an increasingly underrated one on the local Shanghai theatre circuit. Indeed (following a quick trip to the bar to grab a glass of mulled wine), first impressions of the use of the room are good. The minimal set design and ‘exposed’ wings (loaded with prop trunks and costume stands) suit both the show’s atmosphere as well as the conversion of the overall space into a black box theatre. Now, bring on the snow (…or the show… or both)!

Credit: Joshua Tintner
Aaron Garcia (left), OJ Ryan, and Laurie Padgett Fralick as hopeful suitors to the princess in The Snow Queen: A Fairy Tale in Seven Stories.

For those unfamiliar with Hans Christian Andersen’s original children’s tale, The Snow Queen tells the coming-of-age story of a young girl named Gerda (played by Violet Mount) who journeys to the far north to free her friend Kay (Aaron Garcia) from a life of E-T-E-R-N-I-T-Y in the frozen palace of the wintery royal (Laurie Padgett Fralick). Add to this a collection of original songs by OJ Ryan (who also narrates the play), shrieking princesses, talking animals, and more than a few LOL moments (the cast is rounded out by Nastaha Portwood and Richard Bochniak) and the forecast calls for flurries of enjoyment.

It would be easy to argue Mount as the star here—and she is wonderful as Gerda—however, under Hawkins’ direction (six actors take turns playing more than two dozen roles) it hardly seems fair to delineate leading and supporting cast members as it truly takes the entire ensemble working together to pull off the performance. ‘Efficient’ might not be an adjective any production has ever aspired to, but the innovative staging and use of special effects (many of which are provided by the cast themselves) attests to the theatrical spirit of doing a lot with only a little.

Credit: Joshua Tintner
Violet Mount (as Gerda) and Natasha Portwood (as the Little Robber Girl) in The Snow Queen: A Fairy Tale in Seven Stories.

The illusion is further emboldened by Portwood’s (who is also the show’s artistic director) creative prop and costume design and it’s tough to pick a favorite here. Perhaps the crow’s caw-fully tailored suit? Or the talking flowers in the old woman’s garden? One thing is for sure—you’ll have to wait until the very end to see the Snow Queen’s spectacular costume fully revealed for the first time.

Of course, no performance would be complete without at least some music and OJ Ryan’s fun and original songs help tie together the overall emotional arc of the story. We’ll be waiting for the soundtrack to appear on iTunes to download!

Ultimately, by the end of the evening, the show had us smiling, humming a few new tunes, and feeling just a little bit warmer inside. If producing higher quality local theatre is on the agenda, The Snow Queen might just signal Theatre Anon’s own coming-of-age.

As of the time of writing, matinees are sold out, but you can still get tickets for the remaining evening performances (details below). You can also check out our full interview with Theatre Anon co-founders Arran Hawkins and Natasha Portwood about The Snow Queen here.

Tickets for Theatre Anon’s production of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen: A Fairy Tale in Seven Stories are on sale (180RMB in advance or 200RMB on the door) online here or at the following locations:

Cottons (Xinhua Lu and Anting Lu locations)
Hunan House (Fuxing Lu near Wulumuqi Lu)
Cambio Coffee (Jiangning Lu)

Where to see it:

Anken Green Rooftop Theatre (indoors)
668 Huai’an Lu (between Changhua Lu & West Suzhou Lu).

Dates and showtimes:

December 3-6 & 10-13
Evening shows Thurs/Fri/Sat 8pm.
Sat & Sun Matinees 3pm (SOLD OUT)
(no evening show on Sunday 6th/13th)

For more information, you can contact Theatre Anon at the.theatre.anon[at]gmail.com.

Michael Thede

Michael Thede

Founder & Contributor

Michael Thede is a Canadian writer and editor. He studied Film & Philosophy at the University of Western Ontario and is a graduate of the Writing for Film & TV program at Vancouver Film School. He is currently based in Shanghai, where he is also the founder and organizer of the Shanghai Screenwriters Workshop. WeChat: michaelthede78

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