"The Snow Queen – a rescue mission, a voyage of discovery, and a tussle between duty and belonging
With an initial townscape that wouldn’t look out of place for a production of Mamma Mia, it’s Just Another Day in the Sun in Blomsterby according to the lyrics of The Snow Queen’s energetic opening number and the golden sunshine falling over the houses. Bookish Gerda (Calla Hughes Nic Aoidh) – can I pause to appreciate how much a bookish ten year old Alan would have been impressed with a character who never rarely sets down their book throughout a two hour show! – is well informed about the world around her. But she’s never stepped outside her town.
Her childhood friend Kai (Ben McGarvey) is increasingly consumed by wanderlust, wanting to visit the places around the world to which he dispatches orders for the town’s flowers. Gerda’s grandmother Rose (Christina Nelson) has green fingers, and a big family secret that she has held off sharing with Gerda. But when the cold wind of the Snow Queen (Ruby Campbell) blows from the north, her revelation sends Gerda off on a journey that will test her sense of belonging and duty while ascertaining her power to bring about change.
The Snow Queen has a strong ensemble cast. Aaron Halliwell and Darren Franklin – he’s back on the Lyric main stage just a few weeks after spending a month floating above it while playing the troubled photographer in Conor Mitchell’s Propaganda – occupy the sides of the stage, augmenting the Paul Boyd’s rich backing tracks with live percussion, guitars and keys. And if you’re sitting back a bit from the front rows, you’ll catch all kinds of gestures and humorous reactions to the main action.
It’s particularly refreshing to see a Christmas show that has been written with three female leads. Nelson has a much more central role in this year’s show – playing three sisters, each holding an ever-more elaborate and outlandish staff. Nic Aoidh’s duet with Halliwell (The Girl Who Had Stars in her Eyes) is a vocal highpoint in the show. Meanwhile, Ruby Campbell switches from being a girl-about-town in early scenes to become the titular villain, dressed in cool flamboyant white, yet trapped in her position rather than being simply evil. Campbell’s voice and gestures carry across the stage, augmented by Mary Tumelty’s clever use of backlighting and Paul Boyd’s trademark shadow play.
Deborah Maguire’s choreography has been drilled into the cast, with lots of distinctive group movements to help differentiate between the characters in each new location. The gentle horror actions of Great Aunt Tanzy’s guards in Tick Tock is subtle but unmissable. The slippery dance reprise of Just Another Day in the Sun is both funny and symbolises the extensional threat to the good folks of Blomsterby.
There are some great technical successes. The scene changes include neat effects to freeze over the town’s fountain (which hopefully doesn’t contribute to the flow of toddlers wanting to go to the toilet in the first half hour). The final switch from snowy Finnmark back to the Blomsterby town centre has a real wow factor, with the quick costume changes matched by the rapid transformation of the set. Stuart Marshall’s design serves the show well, while Gillian Lennox’s costumes have delicate detailing, like the red hair accessories of Tanzy’s guards toning in with Second Lieutenant Oakie’s military hat (worn by the versatile Christopher Finn). And it snows. Multiple times. Which should be mandatory for all family entertainment staged at Christmas. Expect vocal gasps from the audience when a familiar festival animal makes an appearance.
The young audiences packed into the Lyric Theatre will probably not realise that real life echoes some of the happenings on-stage. It’s natural for groups of creatives to form loose partnerships, working with each other over years, comfortable with each other’s foibles and methods. Much like the dramatic bond between Gerda and Kai – the two village folk who prove that they would go to the end of the earth for each other – it’s good to see Finn, Nelson and Maguire back working with Paul Boyd. But it’s also great to see new blood being tested on stage, with Nic Aoidh and Halliwell making their professional debuts this Christmas, and Paperboy alumni (2018 and 2019) McGarvey returning to the Lyric stage.
The Snow Queen is a good reworking of the normally convoluted original tale by Hans Christian Andersen." Alan In Belfast
Lyric Theatre, Belfast November - December 2022
"The Snow Queen at the Lyric Theatre could be this Christmas's coolest family show. It was just like any other day. Grandmother (Christina Nelson) is checking the roses that grow all round her terrace and below on the town pavement.
Gerda (Calla Hughes Nic Aoidh) is bobbing around with the boys and girls, singing and dancing and waiting for her special friend Kai (Ben McGarvey) to arrive with the daily delivery of roses from the local flower shop. It's roses all the way, the most loved bloom of grandmother, a woman with a secret.
So it began like any other day... but it wasn't to last, and a mystery begins. There's a sudden chill in the air, it's bitterly cold and the fountain freezes... The Snow Queen (Ruby Campbell) is on her way. She spirits Kai away, and Gerda goes looking for him, travelling to the Snow Queen's palace in Finnmark. On the way she meets some strange and colourful people, including her great aunts who have special powers.
I couldn't imagine how this famous Hans Christian Andersen story would adapt for stage but writer and director Paul Boyd gives his audience an impressive couple of hours.
You might think this Christmas production is basically for children, but the adults in the Lyric as totally enthralled as well. My escort was 14-year-old Charlie Hailes from Lisburn and his review was interesting: "I thought the show was unique and well thought out, the technical side of the show was creative and the acting and singing were spot on."
A small cast of seven, including Christopher Finn, Darren Franklin, Aaron Halliwell, the entire stage management team, the set designer Stuart Marshall. lighting by Mary Tumelty and costumes from Gillian Lennox are all outstanding.
And as for the reindeer... if he wasn't already working, I think Father Christmas would sign him up to help deliver presents. For me the outstanding moment was when we first meet the Snow Queen, sitting on her throne in the ice palace. This is where the lighting is at its most effective, conjuring a stunning image.
Like all fairy stories there are lessons to be learned and everyone goes home happy." Irish News
"It’s getting nippy out, Black Friday adverts are still chiming, social media is full of memes stating ‘Every time you put up a Christmas tree Santa shoots an elf’; add to that my plus-one is running fashionably and infuriatingly late and all of this leaves me feeling decidedly less than festive.
Amidst the shuffle of The Lyric, kids are getting their faces snapped by The Ulster Tatler, glasses are clinking as the grown-ups raise a toast and though I may be low on festive frivolities, 15 minutes later I’m somehow caught in the trap of that good old Christmas spirit. Hard not to really when The Snow Queen is in town.
Based on Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, writer and director Paul Boyd has brought a myriad of talents together to deliver his somewhat adapted version of Andersen’s classic.
The general gist is this: an idyllic village somehow produces the best flowers in the world. Grandmother Rose (Christina Nelson) sells her abundance of flowers by 9am every morning with the help of her granddaughter Gerda (Calla Hughes) and local delivery boy Kia (Ben McGarvey) ensures they’re shipped all across the globe. But like every good tale there must be a twist. And believe me Boyd’s pen manages many of them. Kai has wanderlust, the idyllic life is boring to him, and this desire to travel could well be the undoing of the village.
The Snow Queen (Ruby Campbell) dwells in The Very North and her presence is there to create balance between good and evil, light and dark. In Kai’s weakness she has her angle. One night a cold wind blows and in the morning Kai is nowhere to be found. This heralds Gerda’s adventure and the plot really begins.
Gerda travels from the safety of the village and follows footprints in the snow to a multitude of magical places, where she unwittingly stats to develop strange powers; there’s a family secret… With her somewhat dim companion Oakie (Christopher Finn) in tow she meets some enchanting characters on her way north to Finnmark. Captain Crow (Darren Franklin), The Prince (Aaron Halliwell), great aunts Heather and Pansy and Baa the reindeer, whose apercu has me scratching my head in wonder, all add to the story as Gerda goes forth to meet her fate.
Throughout all this adventure there are musical numbers to raise the roof. I’ve saw Nelson in a few performances before but never heard her sing. And what a set of pipes she has. Not to be outdone, both Hughes and Campbell have voices of angels, especially Campbell. The choreography is foot perfect too.
All-in-all a grand night out with unforgettable scenes and a romping soundtrack with sizzling performances." Culture Crush NI
"Paul Boyd’s The Snow Queen at the Lyric Belfast gets Northern Ireland’s Christmas theatre season off to a sparkling, tune-filled start with a fresh, fun, family-focused take on Hans Christian Andersen’s classic tale boasting some superb individual performances within an engaging ensemble.
Belfast-born Boyd produced his first musical in the city in 1992 and made his Lyric debut in 1998 in the theatre’s original building. Since then he has become a virtual seasonal fixture on its successor venue’s main stage, last year’s Pinocchio, The Greatest Wonder of the Age and the pre-pandemic shutdown’s Peter Pan in 2019 recent highlights.
Typically taking liberties with his source material, Boyd strips Andersen’s original of its borrowings from Scandinavian mythology—trolls and anthropomorphic animals are noticeable by their conspicuous absence—to focus instead on plucky young heroine Gerda, even while he extends her family to include a trio of delightfully eccentric female sibling elders.
Played with warm, immensely likable assurance by Calla Hughes Nic Aoidh in her professional debut, bookworm Gerda, it transpires, is the embodiment of “the mythical fifth element: aether” in a family whose women embody earth, water, air and fire and keep the natural world in steady equilibrium.
It’s an idea not fully explored but remains an interesting twist providing that most essential, if disguised, element of Christmas shows: a moral. “Life,” Gerda declares, “is like riding a bicycle; it’s all about balance.”
And so it proves in one of Boyd’s most compact and concentrated offerings in which glancing environmental and feminist arguments are subsumed within a fable about family and friendship.
Boyd’s longtime collaborator Christina Nelson brings customary vivacity to her three sisters, Gerda’s grandmother and aunts—“exhausting”, as she quips in a knowing aside—to all but steal the show, her water-guardian Heather delightfully equipped with a booming theatrical voice that owes as much to Ian McKellen as it does to Margaret Rutherford at their most histrionic, and an undulating physicality that would have exhausted Isadora Duncan.
Doubling as a delectably infectious villager, Ruby Campbell’s titular Snow Queen is a relishable Bond villainess, her stunning singing voice rising to the challenges of Boyd’s aria-like numbers, backed by thumping orchestration, with admirable ease.
Strong support throughout comes from Ben McGarvey’s Kai, Darren Franklin’s archly pitched Captain Crow, the charming Prince of Aaron Halliwell (in another professional debut), and Christopher Finn’s winningly comic, Bobby Ball-accented wooden soldier Oakie, who also invests Enda Kenny’s life-sized reindeer Baa with discreetly touching believability.
The evening succeeds because of the persuasive bonhomie and sheer conviction of the ensemble, several of whom also adeptly provide lyrical, live musical accompaniment to Boyd’s pre-recorded score. In The Snow Queen, the Lyric has produced a veritable Christmas cracker."
British Theatre Guide
"Christmas comes just once a year and the festive season got underway this weekend as the Lyric Theatre’s Christmas musical The Snow Queen took to the stage for their first performances.
The smell of fresh popcorn and the sugar induced excitement of children filled the theatre, creating the perfect atmosphere for this enthralling show.
Adapted from Hans Christian Andersen's much-loved tale of courage, adventure, and friendship, The Snow Queen invites audiences of all ages to join Gerda on her quest as she works in her grandmother's (Christina Nelson) busy flower shop in the centre of town where, for as long as she can remember, the roses are delivered every morning by her friend, one of the town's young men, Kai (Ben McGarvey).
One night an unexpected cold wind blows across the land, and when the windows of the town begin to freeze over grandmother fears the worst – the Snow Queen (Ruby Campbell) has returned.
When Kai disappears, Gerda sets off on a long journey to find him. In search of a palace that sits amongst the snowy, frozen peaks of Finnmark, she meets lots of colourful characters along the way including Oakie (Christopher Finn), Captain Crow (Darren Franklin) and The Prince (Aaron Halliwell).
This musical will have both children and adults alike captivated by not only the story, but also the level of technology involved in bringing this classic tale into the modern era. With an array of audio/visual effects audiences will be enthralled with what the creative team have managed to pull together.
Deborah Maguire’s choreography takes this performance to the next level and it is clear that this has been drummed into the cast as not a single foot was put wrong, with each member giving a performance that was as energetic and enthusiastic as any West End production.
Director, writer and composer, Paul Boyd has taken this tale and made it his own with a fantastic score. It was particularly refreshing to see Franklin and Halliwell accompany the pre-recorded backing tracks with live guitar, percussion and keyboard on stage.
When it comes to performances, the standout star of this show is Christina Nelson who transitions effortlessly between characters as she brings Gerda’s grandmother and great aunts to life.
Elsewhere, a special mention also has to go to Ruby Campbell who gave a stellar performance as The Snow Queen. Her vocal ability is truly phenomenal and will leave audiences spellbound.
While other theatres are content with their annual pantomimes, the Lyric continue to blow it out of the water with their musical adaptations of classic tales. If you are planning to see a Christmas show this season, The Snow Queen should be on your list." Belfast Media
★★★★ "In what has become a time-honoured tradition, writer, director and composer Paul Boyd returns to his hometown at Christmas with a fresh, family-friendly version of a story we think we know so well. This year, he sets his sights on the seven fragmented narratives that comprise Hans Christian Andersen’s much-loved legend, in which the predatory actions of an apparently malevolent figure threaten an innocent friendship and propel an innocent girl out into the world alone.
This is not the traditional fairytale scenario of pretty girl meets nice-but-dim prince, who proves both her saviour in times of trouble and the answer to her romantic dreams. Instead, it is the actions and motivation of the central female character Gerda (Calla Hughes Nic Aoidh) that drive the story towards its unexpected dénouement.
Subtly incorporating the evocative image of the shattered mirror, Boyd cleverly constructs a complex drama of female empowerment, self-determination and mindfulness, with a gallery of fascinating characters and mysterious, atmospheric songs. It adds up to an entertainment that works on multiple levels.
Gerda’s grandmother Rose (Christina Nelson) is a flower seller in the small town of Blomsterby. Her daily supplies of roses are delivered by Kai (Ben McGarvey), Gerda’s best friend. Rose tries to make a match between them, but Gerda is more interested in reading than in boys. She has no wish to venture beyond the security of her immediate surroundings, while Kai yearns for adventure. Then a blast of icy wind and a siren call from afar lure him to an icy prison, from which there seems no escape.
In tracking Gerda’s quest to rescue Kai, Boyd takes us on a thrilling musical journey on which she sets out to the beat of samba drums and Latino dance rhythms. First stop is a sunny favela, with a jumble of fondant-coloured houses and a tinkling fountain. When it suddenly freezes over, Rose warns that this is a sure sign of the approach of the Snow Queen (Ruby Campbell).
Hughes Nic Aoidh’s Gerda is a sparky Frida Kahlo lookalike, navigating sinister forests, lush meadows and misty rivers, accompanied fleetingly by a series of quirky companions. In step with Gillian Lennox’s stylish costumes, Stuart Marshall’s eye-catching design palette turns subtly dark and subdued, leading inexorably towards the bleached permafrost kingdom of the Snow Queen.
Nelson is supremely versatile as three sorcerer sisters who respectively encapsulate the natural elements of earth, fire and water. Hughes Nic Aoidh is an exciting discovery as Gerda, and Campbell, resplendent in frothing white chiffon, displays her excellent vocal range as the Snow Queen, a lonely woman who, while controlling the frozen air, proves to be more sinned against than sinning." The Stage
The Snow Queen is a full stage musical production written for audiences of all ages performed by a cast of seven actors, singers, dancers, puppeteers, and musicians.
"The Christmas theatre season is certainly in full swing as Paul Boyd’s latest musical The Snow Queen flurries to the stage at Belfast’s Lyric Theatre. Taking Hans Christian Anderson’s classic tale and giving it a bit of a welcome refresh, The Snow Queen sees bookworm Gerda leave the sweltering climes of her home town to embark on a treacherous journey to Finmark to save her best friend Kai (he’s definitely not her boyfriend, she promises – he’s just a mate) from the clutches of The Snow Queen.
Considering that this is her professional debut, Calla Hughes Nic Aoidh does a sterling job in her role as Gerda, an immensely likeable character that she does justice to as she frolics around the stage on her quest, even breaking the fourth wall to speak directly to the audience here and there.
While looking for her friend Kai (played by the equally warm and likeable Ben McGarvey) Gerda runs into her great aunts (all played by Christina Nelson) along the way and learns about the gifts that her family possesses through the help of some very catchy musical numbers. A staple in Paul Boyd’s shows, Christina Nelson’s performance is every inch that of a pantomime dame as she portrays Gerda’s grandmother Rose who can control the earth, her great aunt Heather who can control water and her great aunt Tanzy who can control fire.
Christopher Finn’s performance as plucky wooden soldier Oakie elicits some laugh out loud responses from the audience, while his portrayal as reindeer Baa is subtly poignant in contrast. Aaron Halliwell plays the charming Prince amongst other characters with a humbleness not often seen on stage, and as part of the live band he is joined by Darren Franklin in providing musical accompaniment.
Doubling up as a perky villager and the devilish Snow Queen herself, Ruby Campbell’s voice is unparalleled on stage as she belts out numbers worthy of an evil Elsa, bringing the whole performance to a crescendo. With hints of Disney’s Encanto (the energy, the music, the setting) and Disney’s Frozen meshed together this is a great family show for all ages. The story is easy to follow, the songs are all ear worms and the ensemble are all vastly talented.
With densely packed lyrical numbers and live music played by the ensemble themselves, The Snow Queen is a dynamic delight that isn’t just your standard glittering Christmas show. A nice mix of morality, frivolity and fun, The Snow Queen has charm, wit, and most importantly – balance." PastieBap.com
"The love child of Encanto and Frozen, with equally as catchy music, superb singing, lots of fun, so much talent and a great story of friendship, courage, adventure, and family.
What a cast! Christina Nelson is an energetic performer as always. Where does she find her energy? Ruby as the Snow Queen has a phenomenal voice! They all play multiple roles, most obviously Christina with 3 high profile characters, and goodness she does it so well and with a touch of comedy.
Some reviewers might say it’s a great show for kids, but what adult wouldn’t enjoy the escapism for a moment into this Disneyesque world.
We left happy but knackered. Happy because it’s a joyful uplifting show, knackered because the energy on stage just drained us! How they do that night after night deserves the massive round of applause they got at the end." Belfast Times
★★★★ "a thrilling musical journey"
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The Snow Queen, Paul Boyd's 26th original stage musical, was commissioned by the Lyric Theatre Belfast in 2022 and opened for a hugely successful premier run from 25th November.
The show was performed by Ruby Campbell, Christopher Finn, Darren Franklin, Aaron Halliwell, Calla Hughes Nic Aoidh, Ben McGarvey, and Christina Nelson. It was directed by Paul Boyd, choreographed by Deborah Maguire, with musical direction by oli George Rew. The set design was by Stuart Marshall, costumes by Gillian Lennox, with lights designed by Mary Tumelty.
The Snow Queen was named one of only "25 Best UK Shows This Christmas" by The Guardian, one of "10 Must-See Shows In Ireland This Christmas" by Irish national broadcaster RTE, and one of the "UK's Best Festive Shows This Christmas" by NetMums.com
Pomotional video featuring footage from the Lyric Theatre Belfast production, 2022
Gerda works in her grandmother’s busy flower shop in the centre of town where, for as long as she can remember, the roses are delivered every morning by her friend, one of the town’s young men, Kai.
One night an unexpected cold wind blows across the land, and when the windows of the town begin to freeze over grandmother fears the worst - the Snow Queen has returned.
When Kai doesn’t arrive at the shop next morning Gerda becomes worried for her friend, and so she sets off on a long journey to find him, travelling across distant lands in search of a palace that legend says sits amongst the snowy, frozen peaks of Finnmark.
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2022 - Lyric Theatre, Belfast
photos by Carrie Davenport
"enthralling ... The Snow Queen will
leave audiences spellbound"