Writer Emma Reeves has recently had two shows in Leeds: Snow Child at Carriageworks and Hetty Feather at West Yorkshire Playhouse. Snow Child is an inspired adaptation of Arthur Ransome’s The Little Daughter of the Snow, aimed at a three-year-olds plus audience. The evocative snow scene, beautifully designed by Kate Bunce, is a source of much wonderment for the younger audience and a nostalgic remembrance of things past for us adults.
Wendy Harris’ crystal clear direction relies on a sense of magical realism rather than flashy effects. Like many tutti frutti productions there is a sense of make-do and make-up. So in this winter wonderland we meet up with a lonesome couple who don’t really fit into their village as they have no children. It is said to be careful what you wish for as when their dreams come true, snow child is perhaps not quite the infant they had had in mind.
Paula James and Mark Pearce build up a strong rapport with the audience and so when we meet Mei Mac as the snow child we are utterly enthralled and transformed into this fantastic world. Things don’t happen overnight, though, as the narrative quest requires that we conquer the trials and tribulations on the way: Will Snow Child melt in the heat? Will she go back to her friend the fox or have an encounter with a grizzly (and grumpy) bear in the dark and dangerous woods? And the other children in the village are just so different – could she ever fit in?
No spoilers here but suffice to say that the show’s conclusion answers many of these queries in a quite emotional fairy tale ending.
Reeves’ adaptation of Jacqueline Wilson’s children classic Hetty Feather is aimed at a slightly higher age range of seven-year-olds plus, and again it gives more than a sideways nod to the young at heart. Part of the story is quite bleak and Dickensian with Hetty taken away from her mother at birth, starting life at an orphanage and then being fostered. Her childhood games see quite a lot of aerial action directed by Gwen Hales. This acrobatic playfulness is at times idyllic with her fantasises and daydreams an escapism from her misfortune.
But when her foster mother returns her to the orphanage – though one step up from the workhouse or the harsh street – she is phenomenally unhappy. She even thinks she has found her mother in the circus’ Madame Adeline but this is just one on a long list of disappointments. Again, no spoilers here, but Hetty does find her identity and sense of worth in the end.
The show benefits from musical backing performed by Seamus H Carey and Luke Potter and composed by Benji Bower. And Katie Sykes’ design is simply to die for with its incredible flexibility and seamless transformations. Reeves’ writing proves an outstanding success in both Snow Child and Hetty Feather, simply fantastic fun for all the family.