Saturday 5 December 2015

Snow Queen at Z-arts in Manchester

I haven't been to Z-arts before, but I had heard of it. A huge building in Manchester which plays host to a range of arts groups for families and children, with an aim to be accessible for all. Tickets to the show are only £6 for children.

We were invited to the initial showing of their latest production - Snow Queen - an updated version of the Hans Christian Anderson classic tale about friendship and perseverance and hope. It is a bit scary, so suitable for children of school age around 7+.

Brought into the modern day by Philip Osment and Director Jonathan McGrath, the Snow Queen steals away the young boy through his computer game screen, and it is his adopted foster-sister who comes to find and rescue him, meeting a range of puppets and characters along the way.

The acting is fabulous. I really couldn't fault the cast for incredibly immersive and believable characters, who earned our compassion and support. Nisa Cole (Gerda), Gordon Millar (Kai), Bryony Thomas (Snow Queen), Ebony Feare (Wise Woman) and Denise Kennedy (Aunty Jayne) perform almost the entire cast of characters - including many of the puppets.

There was a lot of use of puppetry to create the 'extras' and additional cast members, and it was beautifully done. The puppets were amazing, and had so much character that you saw them as cast members rather than inanimate objects.

The scenery is beautifully done with lovely use of modern technology to create some great effects that really added to the theatrics. A programme called Hexels was used with families at the Snow Queen fun day to create images used during the show.

My 5 and 7 year old boys are well used to theatre and film, sat beautifully and were completely enthralled throughout. If you were there then it was my 7 year old who started chuckling right from the start! The humour really tickled him. My 5 year old announced on the run back to our van in the rain "my best bit was the whole thing".

The runtime was a little under 1 hour 45 minutes, with a 15 minute interval.  Some younger children were a little scared (the Snow Queen is quite evil and is performed excellently as an ominous non-human creature), and the storyline has some quite complicated parts, so it is recommended for age 7+ and is not suitable for children under 5. 

Tickets to Snow Queen cost £6 for children and concessions, £8 for adults and a family ticket for 4 costs £25. Well worth a visit, but be quick because performances of Snow Queen at Z-arts only run until 13th DecemberZ-arts like to create a whole experience around a performance, with crafts and video etc, so some showings have extra activities available beforehand. For all show times and tickets please see the Z-arts website.

Snow Queen is a co-production between Z-arts, The Atkinson in Southport, which receives the show between Wed 16 – Thu 17 December 2015 and Cast in Doncaster, who will be staging the show in March 2016.

As part of their work to support their local community and make art accessible to everyone, Z-arts are trying to bring as many looked after children as possible to the show, and are asking theatre-goers to support them by donating towards the £6 entry for an extra child, or even £1 for an interval ice cream.

Z-arts have all kinds of arts activities available throughout the week, including theatre, crafts, and several types of dance. The Bright Sparks Family Membership Scheme costs from £15 a year and allows families to access everything on offer at discounted rates or for free. Z-arts recieves ongoing funding from Children In Need, but demand for after-school activities currently outstrips the availability.

After spending some time chatting to Z-arts families, I almost felt 'at home' and cared for. Everyone speaks with a passion about the staff, the activities and the whole Z-arts experience, and it's clear to see that it must be very valuable support for a lot of people.

Z-arts is based in a huge City Council owned building with is over 100 years old, and is a charity which is run on a not-for-profit basis. Any extra donations go towards upgrades and currently they are raising money to replace the theatre seating, upgrade the cafe and add extra toilets!

We were treated to our evening out free of charge for review.

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