Once Upon a Snowstorm

09/12/22

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Described as a play for children aged 5-8 and their families, Once Upon a Snowstorm is based on the popular picture book by Richard Johnson. It tells the tale of a boy (Fay Guiffo) and his dad (Michael Sherin), who live in a woodland cottage. One day, they go out to hunt in the snow, but are separated and the boy is lost. Eventually, he ftakes shelter in a cavern and falls asleep. When he awakes, he finds himself surrounded by friendly animals, who teach him all about their ways…

It’s a charming – if slight – tale. Although Jo Timmins’ adaptation includes dialogue, it retains the quiet solemnity of Johnson’s wordless original, as well as the gentle pace. It feels true to the book, capturing its tranquil, earnest tone, and illuminating the boy’s sense of wonder. I’m especially entranced by the music (composed by David Paul Jones), and the way Guiffo’s violin is integrated seamlessly into her performance.

Traverse 2 has been reconfigured for this show, and it’s good to see it being used imaginatively. The acting space is tented with crumpled white sheets, and the seating comprises rows of ‘tree stumps’ (covered stools) and cushions, presumably intended for the wee ones to sit on and, at the back, a single row of adult-sized chairs. On entering, we’re asked to hang up our coats and remove our shoes, which somehow adds to the sense of occasion: something different is happening here. Largely, it works well, although there are some issues with the sight lines. There’s no one organising the smallest children to the front rows, and not enough full-sized seats for the grown-ups accompanying them. I can understand the wish to create something intimate, with no clear boundaries. But it might make sense to place the beautiful model house on a higher plinth, so that we can actually see it, and for the boy not to spend quite so much time sitting or lying on the floor.

Sherin and Guiffo embody all the different animals, and their performances are enchanting. Perhaps there’s a little too much repetition for me (the same route through the audience; three different lots of projected images), but the target audience seem to lap it up and, at forty-five minutes, there’s no time for this to flag.

Once Upon a Snowstorm is a sweet, simple tale, with some beautiful imagery.

3 stars

Philip Caveney

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