Preview: Snow Child

Emma Reeves, acclaimed children’s writer of stage and screen, speaks to Steve Lee about her new play and why she couldn’t resist a happy ending

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A collaboration between the Leeds-based Tutti Frutti Theatre Company, York Theatre Royal and Olivier Award-nominated playwright and television writer Emma Reeves, Snow Child is a play for young children with a twist.

Aimed at three to seven year olds and based on a traditional Russian folk tale, the story centres on a couple whose desperation for a child leads them to build a girl from snow, who subsequently comes to life. She’s a girl like no other. As she dances in the wild landscape and talks with the animals, she brings joy, fun and laughter to the whole village.

So far so wonderful and delightfully Christmassy. And yet there’s a sense of realism, often missing from saccharine stories for children, which pervades the performance – the couple find it’s not easy, bringing up a wild daughter of the blizzards and the wind.

“They desperately wanted a child but when they get her she’s not quite what they were expecting and they don’t know how to look after her,” explains Reeves.

“It’s about the fact that being part of a family is never what anyone really expects and every child is different in their own way.”

Although many other versions of the age-old tale – including possibly the most widely read, Arthur Ransome’s Little Daughter of the Snow – feature a tragic finale where the daughter leaves her parents, Reeves says that’s not quite the festive ending they wanted for six year olds. “Wendy Harris, who directed, was very keen it wasn’t all sugary but we felt like we needed to leave the audience with a sense of the Christmas spirit, so it does have a happy ending. And the idea of a child made from snow coming to life is just such a magical image.”

Reeves began writing for children around a decade ago with her esteemed adaptation of The Story of Tracy Beaker for CBBC. Since then she’s split her time between television and stage work. Comparing the disciplines, she says each has both positives and drawbacks.

“When you’re writing for television you’re restricted mainly by what the channels want to show, and because CBBC is aimed at six to 12 year olds there’s that pressure to make sure absolutely everything on there is suitable for the youngest viewers.

“I do think it would be nice if there was a suitable television slot for telling stories to slightly older children. The theatre is less restrictive as you’re left to your own devices, so I just had Wendy looking over the Snow Child drafts with me.”
But does added freedom bring added pressure?

“That really is true,” laughs Reeves. “In television there are so many people having a say that if what I was writing was bad, someone along the line would save me from myself. But I do feel like I’m in safe hands with Wendy.”

Thankfully though, any added pressure was far outweighed by the chance to enchant young children, many experiencing theatre for the first time. Describing Snow Child as both magical and heart-warming, Reeves promises her audience will be, “transported to a world where anything is possible and meet an irresistible heroine who probably feels about her parents the same way they do. And I hope it will encourage children to see the enormous potential of story-telling and inspire them to tell their own.”

Snow Child visits Lancaster, Burnley and Leeds next week and is touring nationwide until March 2016

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