Performed at the Ovalhouse, The Snow Spider tells the tale of Gwyn Griffiths who, upon his ninth birthday, receives a collection of strange gifts from his grandma, along with the news that he may be a magician. Set in the pastoral Welsh countryside, his magical ancestors and a curious snow spider lead him on the adventure of a lifetime, forcing him to come to terms with the upsets of his past and to forge himself an exciting new future. Based on Jenny Nimmo's award-winning children's book, it might have been fair to assume that this stage adaptation would only appeal to the young, but what a mistake that would be. This captivating fairytale has something for both children and adults alike and, although it had high expectations to meet, it is safe to say that it exceeds them.
The story opens with the ensemble cast conducting an eerie tune, the stage lit with a mystical icy blue, whilst a woman, later introduced as Nain, tells the story of ancient Wales, how it was riddled with powerful magic over a thousand years ago, and how witchcraft still exists among us. Nain, played with the perfect blend of enchantment and comedy by Anne-Marie Piazza, is one of the quirkiest and most intriguing characters of the whole performance. She is both the star of the show and the glue that holds the entire performance together, as her explanations of the magical realm are paramount to understanding the tale. Although she does not possess any magical prowess herself, not through lack of trying (much to the audience's amusement) she coaxes her grandson in the direction of realising his potential as a magician, faultlessly producing both poignant and humorous moments in the process.
After Nain's introduction, the story shifts to a rural farm on which Gwyn Griffiths lives with his loving but fretting mother, played by Hannah Good, and his uptight, miserable father, played by Philip Benjamin, who blames Gwyn for the disappearance of his daughter four years earlier. Gwyn himself, portrayed by Joey Hickman, is a delightfully likeable character, although not entirely believable as a nine year old boy. Throughout the performance, it is impossible not to root for him; to want him to make amends with Alun, the friend in whom he confided and who betrays him, played with a boyish charm by Iestyn Arwel, or for him to discover that his kind-hearted, unusual new friend, Eirlys, played by Catrin Livsey, is actually his lost sister, Bethan. The seven-strong cast were all wonderfully diverse and talented, taking on a number of other roles, as well as providing the play with beautiful and enthralling Welsh music and a vast array of inventive sound effects.
Although the acting was superb, it was the music and the innovative creative direction of the piece which really caught my attention. Delyth Jones and James Lark have done a marvellous job of capturing the magical essence of this already popular children's story and adapting it for the stage. The props were minimalist, with the actors themselves constituting the majority of the onstage aesthetics as well as acoustics. This imaginative use of the actors as props really added a mythical feel to the performance, reminiscent of The Sorcerer's Apprentice. A particularly enjoyable example was the use of cast as an onstage band to represent an old record player. Having dusted the troupe off, Gwyn's mother places a musician's bow to violin in the fashion of dropping a stylus to an old record and the band springs to life. The stage itself, designed by Florence Hazard, was cleverly styled to look like part of a spider's web, effectively complementing the snow spider, inventively portrayed through the use of perfectly timed hand puppetry which successfully created a character personality in itself. As well as this, the lighting and the music did an incredible job of flawlessly creating and changing the atmosphere of the performance when it was required. It is this kind of meticulous and well thought out choreography that made this one of the most enjoyable performances of the season.
With it being a half term showing, and the majority of the audience made up of children, the two hour duration of the performance was a worry with regards to attention spans. However, every member of the audience was enthralled for the duration of this mesmerising, heartfelt and magnificent story. It is a performance I would wholeheartedly recommend, no matter what your age.