Caro Meets Children's Show Interview

Elvi Piper: The Snow Queen

By | Published on Friday 26 November 2021

We have lots and lots of family Christmas shows to talk about at the moment, and it’s all rather festive and exciting. One such show that really jumped out at us is ‘The Snow Queen’ from Leeds-based family theatre producing company Wrongsemble, which opens soon at The Albany in Deptford.

Of course readers will be familiar with the plot of ‘The Snow Queen’, but this version is a little different – a vibrant modern retelling with an eye on contemporary concerns about climate change – and it sounds fabulous.

To find out more about the show and about Wrongsemble, I spoke to Elvi Piper, company founder and Artistic Director.

CM: Can you start by telling us about the narrative of ‘The Snow Queen’? It’s based on the Hans Christian Anderson story isn’t it?
EP: It’s very loosely based on Hans Christian Anderson’s story, but ultimately our version of ‘The Snow Queen’ is a modern reimagining for contemporary family audiences. In our show a young girl gazes up at the stars and worries about the world. The adults don’t seem to have noticed that the seasons aren’t behaving, or that it hasn’t snowed for years. This is an emergency! So, she decides it’s time to take the issue straight to the top – of the world – and find the Snow Queen who controls the weather.

CM: So it’s quite different to the original story?
EP: Yes, it’s pretty wildly different actually – but still retains the themes of discovery, adventure and the eponymous mysterious Snow Queen character. It’s very much a fairy-tale still, but one we hope young people and families can really relate to. In our version our hero is a young climate activist who wants to help save the world, and meets a host of fabulous new friends along the way. From an overworked elf, to a pompous polar bear, to a tortoise who generates a lot of waste, she helps them learn that small changes can make a big difference.

CM: What themes do you explore through the show?
EP: First and foremost, this production is a joyful festive family show – so it’s packed full of vibrant music and adventure, with themes of community, friendship and kindness throughout. But, as I’ve noted, running through the whole thing – from behind the scenes to on stage – this show also promotes a message of sustainability and explores what we can all do to help make the world a better place.

CM: Are there specific messages for the audience?
EP: One of the show’s big messages is that ‘small changes can make a big difference’: this really talks about the things we can all do to help combat the climate emergency day to day. As a company we have committed to creating this production sustainably in every possible way! The second message is ‘sometimes the youngest voice speaks the loudest truth’: it’s so important that we listen to young peoples’ views on the world they are growing up in, and think about what we – as adults – can do to help realise a better future for them. We want young people to feel empowered to speak out and be the change that they want to see!

CM: Why did you want to do a show on this topic and themes?
EP: It feels so important that what we put on our stages reflects the world around us. There has never been so much conversation about the climate emergency, and our place within that. We know that as well as entertaining families, we have a responsibility to educate, encourage questioning, and inspire conversations. By providing opportunities to explore sustainability as a theme in a fun and engaging way we hope audiences will leave inspired to take whatever action they feel they can.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the cabaret and musical elements? What style or genre of music should audiences expect?
EP: Our Snow Queen is portrayed as a non-binary drag artist, who resides in a sequin moon watching over the world below, and orchestrating the whole show from their glittering piano. The vibrant original soundtrack of music is performed live by three incredible actor-musicians, and provides an eclectic mix of musical genres from piano cabaret anthems, to storytelling folk-pop songs, and energetic musical theatre numbers with high-energy dance-routines that fill the stage.

CM: Can you tell me a bit about the cast?
EP: As a northern-based company we are passionate about championing the talent of our region, and with both our cast and creative team for ‘The Snow Queen’ we are doing just that! Our hero Lumi is played by Tilly Smith, a recent graduate – with a voice like an angel! Then we have Richard Priestley taking on the role of the Snow Queen – who plays, sings and entertains throughout like a drag superstar. And completing our trio is Thomas Cotran – a phenomenal actor-musician who takes on a whole host of different characters that will have the audience in stitches!

CM: You are AD of Wrongsemble – can you tell me about the company – what aims and ideals does it have?
EP: Wrongsemble is a Yorkshire-based family theatre company producing ambitious socially democratic art that doesn’t discriminate. We’re committed to making fantastic family theatre of any scale, and place quality at the heart of what we do, ensuring our projects are accessible and engaging for people of all ages, abilities, experiences and cultures.

CM: How did the company get through the lockdown? What’s it been like getting back to live shows?
EP: We were able to remain resiliently active throughout the pandemic. From delivering the first UK socially-distanced outdoor family show for both English and Welsh pilots supported by Arts Council England, Slung Low, Leeds2023 and Theatr Clwyd – to the creation of our innovative digital theatre adventures ‘HUMBUG’, ‘Aladdin And The Stolen Stories’ and ‘Stargazer’ to resounding critical and audience acclaim, which families can still find and enjoy online! We found ways to adapt, and I’m so proud of the work our team of artists were able to generate in such a difficult time. But, we are so thrilled to be back presenting live work for audiences across the country this Christmas – nothing compares to it!

CM: How did you come to be working in the theatre? Is it a career you always intended to pursue? What steps did you take to begin your career?
EP: My mum was a secondary school drama teacher, so I was exposed to so much theatre from an early age. From there, I got involved with my local youth theatre and spent every spare moment I had there. I’m lucky that my family have always been incredibly supportive of my desire to work in theatre. I can honestly say I never wanted to do anything else. After I left school I did a degree at drama school, and then worked for a number of big theatres – from The Old Vic to The RSC – in their participation departments. I learnt so much in that time, before finally biting the bullet and going freelance to focus on Wrongsemble full-time. It’s a lot of hard work, but it is genuinely the best job in the world!

CM: What ambitions do you have for the future – for yourself and Wrongsemble?
EP: I hope that we can continue to create the same exciting theatre for family audiences for years to come. We’d love to be able to grow the scale and ambition of our work, nurturing northern talent, and telling incredible stories to people all over the world. It would be great to work with other brilliant theatres across the country to produce dynamic on-stage experiences all year round for all ages.

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
EP: We’ll be touring our critically acclaimed family show ‘The Not So Ugly Sisters’ nationally in April 2022 – finishing in London at Jacksons Lane on 23 and 24 Apr. This joyful co-production with Leeds Playhouse and Red Ladder Theatre Company is a reimagined musical retelling of the Cinderella story from the perspective of her ‘Not So’ Ugly Sisters with an incredible soundtrack of original music. We’re delighted to be finally bringing it to venues all over the country after we had to halt our original tour in March 2020.

‘The Snow Queen’ is on at The Albany, Deptford from 4-31 Dec. For more information and to book tickets, see the venue website here.

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