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Snow Play: for Children

Friday, 26 August, 2011

Slapstick and Storytelling

Edinburgh 11 – The Pleasance Above – 3 – 29 August

Snow Play is a three person piece designed for two to seven year olds.

Mr White (Carlo Rossi) is asleep onstage under a single bare light bulb as the house opens, downstage of him are some basic glassless french windows and to the right of those a Christmas tree.  It would be a bare and slightly dull setup were it not for Carlo Cappeli’s score –  which is a beautiful and evocative piece of writing – and the ‘snow’ circling in the air.  With these in place the theatre becomes a magical winter environment.

A rowdy audience of children never really settles throughout (this is failing on the parents part rather than the performers) but when they are as close as they will get Carlo Rossi awakes. He comes out of the window and hands ‘snow’ to the audience; ‘for later’ he says.  Rossi hasn’t got any lines that are much more complicated than that, a skilled clown his role in the piece is to thwart Mr Green’s (Patrick Lynch) attempts to get him out of the house and clear up the snow.  He is a captivating performer with a great capacity for physical humour and keeps the children mesmerised throughout.

Patrick Lynch is a excellent foil for Rossi, he has the bulk of the lines, communicates clearly and simply with the children but shows a great deal of flair for physical comedy as well.  A great deal of credit should be given to him for his control over the children, the production asks a lot (at one point every child in the auditorium is onstage) and yet he manages things without breaking character which is a considerable achievement.  Together, him and Rossi are a classy team who effortlessly entertain.

The third performer is Kate Phillips, she is a plant (a performer sat in the audience in plain clothing) she has minimal involvement and does a excellent job but, ultimately, her involvement feels calculated and disingenuous.

Despite the skills of the performers the real star of Snow Play is the script and its tight integration with the prop and set design.  Many different types of snow are used – ranging from large rolls of it that the audience spread over Mr Green’s house whilst he is sweeping up the paper based snow Mr White has spread outside.  Other tricks used to great effect are a umbrella that snows continuously from inside itself when opened and ‘snowballs’ that the audience throw at Mr White who then bats them back with a tennis racket.

Marcello Chiarenza’s direction is assured and skilled, mixing slapstick with storytelling and always keeping Mr White and Mr Green as distinct and rounded characters.  He takes his young audience seriously and repeatedly gets them involved, allowing the stage to get close to anarchy before trusting his two excellent performers to reign things back in.  It’s very impressive work.

There are slight niggles, the lighting design is patchy and disjointed at times, although operator error and usual Edinburgh technical compromises most likely explain this.  The French windows in the set are also slightly too imposing from some angles and obscure some of the action.

These are minor issues but it is a testament to how much Snow Play gets absolutely right that they irritate.  Another irritation is that on occasion the experience feels a little calculated – having Mr Green remind people that the soundtrack is in sale in the foyer as the piece ends is a key example – The children without exception have a magical and fun time, and the adults are well entertained,  it is a testament to how well this is done that no-one wants to be distracted from the snowy reality that the show creates.

Cast Credits: (alpha order): Patrick Lynch – Mr Green.  Kate Phillips – Plant  Carlo Rossi – Mr White.

Company Credits: Director, Designer and Writer – Marcello Chiarenza.  Writer – Patrick Lynch   Props and Costume Design – Elena Marini. Lx Designer – Uncredited  Musical Composition – Carlo Cappeli   Technical Operator – Zoe Robinson

(c) George Maddocks 2011

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