A painted cloth backdrop takes centre stage as the villagers of Kishka (played by Grace Chow, Charlotte Otton, Andrea Gibbs and Isaac Diamond) gather around a fire. The snow falls, but doesn’t melt. Eventually, the villagers run out of food to eat, wood to keep warm and activities to keep them entertained. When the bureaucrats fail to provide an effective solution, a plucky child named Thea Sutton (played by Chow) prevails upon the town to catapult herself and a team of heroes over the snow and into the world.
The painted backdrop is rolled away to reveal a fake wooden frame, where we meet a variety of puppets. One of these is a bag-carrying giant named Olive (Otton), who is always silent, and ever prepared. Another puppet represents Thea, replacing Chow intermittently. Actors become puppets, and puppets become actors as Thea and Olive look for solutions to the snow-induced starvation faced by the Kishka villagers. They encounter a colourful collection of characters along the way, including a duplicitous woman left behind by her village, the mean birds of the dark woods and Nigel and Gary, who each ride in on half-a-horse with Holy Grail-esque antics and humour.
The transformable set is a wonder unto itself. A backdrop becomes a screen, on which stop-motion animation reveals a shadowy character backstory. A working trapdoor becomes a unique way of containing well-meaning puppets, and turning them into humans. Tiny little lanterns, gigantic loaves of bread and existential nothingness all make memorable appearances, thanks to Zoë Atkinson’s ingenious set design.
Cathie Travers provides an atmospheric score in the form of a live piano accordion performance throughout the entirety of the play. Palpable synergy between Lucy Birkinshaw’s evocative lighting design, Travers’ composition and Finegan Kruckemeyer’s enchanting narrative combine to create unforgettable magic. Light, shadow, movement, sound, scale and perspective are utilised skilfully and imaginatively.
Performers Gibbs and Diamond maintain impressive dramatic momentum, bouncing off each other in a range of contexts, always with meticulous comedic timing. Their captivating characterisation elevates an already amusing play into the realm of cheek-achingly hilarious. Chow’s exuberant performance perfectly captures the childlike enthusiasm of Thea, while Otton’s portrayal of Olive is paradoxically understated and heart-stoppingly resonant, particularly during a certain musical moment.
Barking Gecko Artistic Director Luke Kerridge accurately describes the play as: ‘a really beautiful adventure story for children but also really meaningful for adults’. He isn’t wrong.
The Snow is that rarest of rarities – a family show that grabs everyone’s attention, regardless of age or generic inclination.
Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre of WA
Written by Finegan Kruckemeyer
Director: Adam Mitchell
Designer: Zoë Atkinson
Lighting Designer: Lucy Birkinshaw
Composer, Sound Designer, Live Musician: Cathie Travers
System Designer: Tim Collins
Production Manager: Stewart Campbell
Company Stage Manager: Emily Stokoe
Assistant Stage Manager: Sophia Morgan
Costume Coordinator: Nicole Marrington
Props Builders: Luke Salfinger, Taryn Gill
Cast: Grace Chow, Isaac Diamond, Andrea Gibbs, Charlotte Otton
The Snow will be performed until 16 July 2023.