Thank you to Carrot Productions for kindly providing us with press tickets in exchange for this review
I don’t remember the first time I watched The Snowman. I was four and a half when it was first aired in 1982. But I do remember it being a staple at Christmas time as a child. That little boy flying across the sky to the accompaniment of Walking in the Air was as much a part of Christmas as hanging up a stocking and pulling crackers.
Now I have my own family, it’s also become a regular fixture of my children’s Christmases; almost 40 years on, the animation is still just as enchanting as it ever was, young and old uniting in the delight of the tale of the snowman who comes to life one magical night and takes little James on a nighttime adventure accompanied by a score of beautiful music.
I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve watched the Raymond Briggs animation over the years, but I can tell you I’ve never seen it like I did last night. Cardiff’s St David’s Hall hosted a screening of the film accompanied by a live orchestra and lots more musical treats, curated by Carrot Productions, who have received much acclaim not just for this show but for their Wallace and Gromit Musical Marvels, also accompanied by a live orchestra, which we were lucky enough to review back in 2019.
The evening starts with a Christmas musical extravaganza as the orchestra play a medley of assorted Christmas songs and carols, effortlessly moving from one to the next under the watchful eye of conductor Steven Magee. The musicians are all suitably dressed for the occasion in costumes including elves, a nutcracker, a tree, a star and even a Christmas pudding and a cracker; they look fantastic.
We’re then guided through the different instruments of the orchestra with each instrumental family doing its own little turn. Next up it’s The Bear and the Piano, a beautiful animation, narrated by Joanna Lumley, and with the orchestra providing live musical accompaniment. It’s a heartwarming story about a bear who discovers a piano in the woods and practices a little every day for months and months, before one day becoming a world class performer. The artwork is so mesmerising and the story ending was very touching.
The first act ends with a live-size dancing snowman waltzing up and down the auditorium much to the delight of the audiences.
The second act is dedicated to the timeless animation of The Snowman. Even though the story is such a familiar one, seeing it on a big screen, with a live orchestra and local girl Lola Jones singing Walking in the Air, makes it feel so fresh and new again.
It’s such a lovely experience to share it with an audience of a few hundred others; it’s so heartwarming to hear everyone’s laughter as the Snowman replaces his nose with various items from the fruit bowl, and to join in as everyone starts clapping in time as all the snowmen dance and party.
It is at this point that a badly-timed power cut to one-third of the building unfortunately sees the big screen go blank. The performers carry on until the end of the scene before they are forced to take a little pause until the issue is fixed. Thankfully this doesn’t take very long and amazingly they pick up the music perfectly to much cheering. The hitch only makes the audience seem to appreciate it even more; after a year and a half of no live performance, not to mention everything else we’ve been through, a five minute technical issue is not going to dampen anyone’s festive spirit.
This was such a beautifully festive night full of magic and wonder, but the sounds of the orchestra and the spacious feel of St David’s Hall made it feel wonderfully relaxing and serene too.
The Snowman is currently touring the UK. See the Carrot Productions website for more information.
Covid regulations: In compliance with the Welsh government, everyone aged 18+ is required to show a Covid pass before entering the theatre and those aged 11+ are expected to wear masks during the performance (unless exempt).
See my recent article for more ideas for family-friendly theatre shows, pantomimes and performances this Christmas season. Plus there’s more ideas for family-friendly days out the Cardiff section of Cardiff Mummy Says.