This Christmas, Tobacco Factory Theatres present an original take on a much-loved fairy tale, created with New International Encounter (Beauty and the Beast, Hansel and Gretel), and promising music, magic and fun aplenty.
In a wild and windswept land, far, far away, a cruel Queen is assured by her magic mirror that her beauty surpasses all others. Until one day, when the mirror proclaims that Snow White, the Queen’s stepdaughter, is the fairest in the land.
Fleeing the Queen’s rage, Snow White runs deeper into the forest where she finds refuge with a motley crew of characters that accept her as one of their own and show her a different way to live.
This joyful re-telling of the classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale is about growing up, growing old, growing your own food and why you shouldn’t trust a very shiny red apple. Here are director Alex Byrne and Bristol-based dramaturg Rina Vergano to tell us more.
So, tell us how the story came together.
Alex: Well, we started with the Brothers Grimm original, and then looked at some of the other sources and versions. I then sat down with Rina to work out a treatment for the start of rehearsals.
Rina: Alex wanted to go into the rehearsal room with a road map to underpin the devising process, knowing the thread of the storyline and the journeys of the main characters. We did a lot of riffing and ‘stress testing’ of ideas to make sure that all the choices we made had legs. Alex is a super-bright rationalist with strong clear opinions, while I’m more touchy-feely, intuitive and interested in meaning, essence and symbols. It was a robust and fun artistic sparring process, fuelled by food, wine and coffee!
Tell us a little about the NIE way of doing things.
Alex: All the shows I make are devised – so I start with a story or source and then work out the script in the rehearsals room as I go along. I often start with some music, or musical sources, as well. I tend to work with everything all at the same time – some bits of costume and even some part of the set – and then proceed in a kind of chaos from there. Never normally with a script though!
All of NIE’s shows use actors who also play music and that is a big feature in this show: the cast make up a six-piece band and there is pretty much a constant live underscore throughout and lots of songs.
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Where will the show sit in the Bristol Xmas theatre landscape, alongside madcap, darkly comic adult fare at the Wardrobe, imaginative and beautifully staged stuff at Bristol Old Vic, and celebrities and high production values at the Hippodrome?
Rina: I’d say that NIE’s take on the fairytale Xmas show is maybe more purist and certainly the most ‘folksy’ of the bunch when it comes to family fun for all ages. Snow White will be right at home in the fantastic ‘reach out and touch’ space of the Tobacco Factory Theatre, which really lends itself to intimacy, hilarity, audience involvement and enjoyment.
Who can forget NIE’s amazing Beauty & The Beast, with Beast (Martin Bonger) cooking up disastrous messy meals in an attempt to woo Beauty, or Hansel & Gretel where the kids in the audience were moved to leave sweeties at the edge of the stage every night for the cold hungry siblings? Pure magic.
Does the show provide something for all ages? And what is the key to achieving that?
Alex: A great story is a great story however old you are, and Snow White is a great story – it’s about mothers and daughters, about values and finding your place in the world. I think of my own family when I make these kinds of shows – of my own daughter and my Gran who was a raucous and wonderful lady. You need to take the story seriously and keep the show playful and fun with an occasional wink to the grown-ups in the audience. I love the Tobacco Factory audience – they are loyal and fun and really up for a good time.
Rina: As a Christmas show this Snow White has got it all: gorgeous music, loads of laughs, darkness and light, a girl-heroine, deeper stuff about self-image and the true nature of beauty, and an environmental message: in this version the traditional ‘dwarves’ are a democratic eco-collective of Earthburghers living off-grid in the woods, inspired by my friend Tony Wrench who lives in Wales in his own earth-built Roundhouse complete with compost loo. Tony is a local legend as he’s taught eco-building techniques to young people on the SHIFT BRISTOL sustainability course for years.
Snow White is a tiny epic that mixes fact, fantasy, fairytale and fun – what’s not to like?
Snow White is at Tobacco Factory Theatres from Nov 28 to Jan 19. Ages 5+. For more info, visit www.tobaccofactorytheatres.com/shows/snow-white