This Russian folk tale, adapted into a musical by Geoff Paige and performed by 8-13 year olds from Cambridge Youth Musical Theatre, was a real post-Christmas treat.
The story begins optimistically with widow Pavel and his baby daughter Alina getting together with Olya and her baby daughter Tatyana.
16 years later Olya and Tatyana clearly rule the roost, bullying Pavel and using Alina as their skivvy. The girls share a birthday but it is Alina who is sent to the market to buy all the things needed to celebrate Tatyana’s birthday. On the way Alina’s kindness means that the money she has been given is all given away to others worse off than her.
When she gets home her stepmother and stepsister berate her, demanding that Pavel takes her to the forest - where she will be killed by the cold. But she meets Father Frost, who recognises her kindness and rewards her with extravagant gifts. On her return home Olya’s reaction is to greedily demand that Tatyana goes to the forest too, in the hope that she also will be rewarded. But Tatyana is so evidently uncaring that Father Frost only gives her a mysterious black box, which when opened proves to hold a terrible and harmful power.
And only Alina’s kindness can release Tatyana and her mother…
Geoff Page has done a great job in turning this simple but thought-provoking tale into a ninety minute musical. There is a nice balance between the original story and Geoff’s script, which has lots of modern resonances and humour, especially in the songs, with well-crafted tunes drawing it all together. I especially enjoyed Off to theMarket and Potatoes – where the guests bemoan the only food available at Tatyana’s party.
Seven principal characters shared the stage and other roles with a very busy chorus of eleven. Emilia Rowland struck the right note as Alina, showing good empathy with the kind, put-upon daughter, and India Wilson was relentlessly unkind as the spoilt, cruel Tatyana. Likewise, Daniel Hall was well cast as the more-than-henpecked Pavel with Kaitlyn Welsh his heartless and bullying foil. There is always a danger of an animal stealing the show and in this case Sam Hughes as Max, Alina’s beloved (singing, barking, breakdancing) dog, almost did just that. I thought James Welsh played Father Frost just right – dignified but with an underlying sense of impish humour - with Jack (Archie Meikle) as his lively nephew and woodland companion.
The whole cast were on stage for most of the show and the chorus did an excellent job singing, acting and dancing in support of the main players.
The set was simple but appropriate, as were the costumes. I liked the use of strings of leaves for the forest scene and Alina’s dress which she returns from the forest wearing was, suitably, fit for a princess.
The show was clearly enjoyed by the audience but, for this age group, just as importantly, I got the impression that the whole cast enjoyed being in this show.
Congratulations to all involved, but especially writer Geoff Page and Director Lesley Ford and her team.
Apart from young theatre groups this would make an excellent show for performance in schools. I could also imagine it being done, perhaps with some tweaking, by a small professional group as a Christmas show.