With details inspired by Indian mythology The Snow Queen is a sharp-eyed commentary on contemporary culture

Name of the play: The Snow Queen

Performed by: Trestle Theatre, U.K.

Date: August 10

Venue: Sir Mutha Venkatasubba Rao Concert Hall, Chetpet

Travel with Gauri from Kanyakumari to Kashmir in this retelling of Hans Christian Anderson’s much-loved tale. Originally published in 1845, this story has inspired operas, pantomimes and dance theatre. Now watch local playwright Anupama Chandrasekar’s version of The Snow Queen recreated in India, interwoven with chaos, colour and magic. Featuring preening Bollywood actors, bumbling bandits and even a speed-obsessed, bling-laden auto driver.

This is the Indian premier of the energetic production by Trestle Theatre (Trestle is a mask and physical theatre company based in St, Albans, Trestle Arts Base, UK), originally commissioned by Unicorn Theatre. It has just completed a successful run in London with 50 shows, reaching an audience of over 10,000 people.

Enjoy the details inspired by Indian mythology, culture and topography, along with the sharp-eyed commentary on contemporary culture.

Director’s Cut — Rosamunde Hutt

Reinterpreting fairytales seems to be the rage now, from Hollywood to theatre. Why choose this route — and this particular story?

The Snow Queen was always one of my favourite fairy tales. The image of a boy with slivers of ice in his heart and his eye haunted me as a child. The story by Hans Christian Andersen has universal themes of changes, loyalty, love and friendship. Children, parents and grandparents love watching Gowri and Kumar’s relationship, two best friends, who are just on the cusp of change from childhood to adolescence, laughing, tussling, arguing and making up. They have a loving relationship with their great old friend Patti who is like a grandmother to them. The audience understand the pull between Gowri who wants to do her homework and be a good girl, and Kumar who is restless and wants to travel and go around the world. These two are suddenly wrenched apart by the snow queen who kidnaps Kumar, and Gowri travels all the way from the southern tip of India to the snowy mountains of the north in order to rescue him. She does not start as a brave girl, she would not believe that by the end of the story she would have climbed mountains, ridden horses, learnt to fight, danced in Bollywood, gone on a boat into the open sea in a tempest — she would not believe that she would be capable of such courage. The overarching theme in the play is that there has been a huge and terrible war. There has been bloodshed by selfish, ignorant people and the snow queen has forbidden love, happiness and laughter in her bleak queendom as a result of this war. The two children through their courage and compassion unlock the snow queen from her pain and grief. These epic themes ensure that an ancient fairytale is relevant to the audience in 2012.

2) For a play put together in London, The Snow Queen revels in Indian physical language and geographical locations, from Madras to Kalaripayyattu, Kerala to Kashmir…

Writer Anupama Chandrasekhar from Chennai proposed this four-way marriage between the old European story; a sharp-eyed comment on contemporary India; underpinned with resonances of Indian mythology, cultures and geography; to be presented in inner city London over Christmas 2011. The British Council’s Connections Through Culture scheme enabled Anupama and me to travel across continents to develop this play. Anupama wished to evoke the magic of the original tale as well as the colours, landscapes and realities of contemporary India. Add into the mix a cast and creative team of British actors and artistes, with roots in India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ruanda and Sri Lanka, and a truly intercultural project has been created. Emily Gray from Trestle Theatre and choreographer Ash Mukherjee had studied classical Indian dance, and introduced us to the concepts of rasas and mudras, weaving in cultural references to help the actors deliver highly visual performances. We have reaped the benefits of globalisation, connected by a dedication for the making of quality theatre for families.

3) After 50 successful performances in Unicorn Ttheatre, London, you’ve said this tour has been “magicked” into existence. What are your thoughts on the Indian premiere?

In August 2011, I spent two weeks in India researching the possibility of this tour. I met with theatre producers, visited venues and talked to the British Council. It thrills me to think that all that work and all those talks have borne fruit and that we will indeed be taking the show to the magical city of Chennai. When I was there it was the festival of Ganesha, and Anupama and I sat on the beach and watched families place their clay figures in the sea. Anupama said that it was a very auspicious time for me to be visiting and we crossed our fingers that I would be back a year later with the cast. A dream come true! A small but totally committed team has worked its hearts out to make this tour happen, a tall order in these austere times, and we cannot wait to meet our Indian audiences. Some of our cast will be returning to the country of their grandparents. We will return to the U.K. having deepened the play’s authenticity and with enhanced skills to develop work for culturally diverse audiences. For India, we are putting the actors at the centre, focussing on the ensemble nature of the piece, creating the story through light, music, dance, colour, costume, ingenious use of props as it would be unrealistic to tour a huge set to three cities. This approach reflects our experience that, even in this highly technological world with its dazzling cinema and visual pyrotechnics, the power of theatre holds a child through the strength of the narrative, the truthful performances, the visceral relationship between characters and audience, and the extraordinary capacity of the child to respond with his or heart to the magic of storytelling. An umbrella and a box becomes an auto rickshaw, confetti becomes a shower of snow, and a handful of petals thrown high represents the coming of Spring.

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