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Review by Hannah Wilkin
The rippling glass of the Sage glowed in the chilly evening dark. Every bridge and building along the Quayside was bathed in beautiful light and we had to keep stopping to photograph it all because it was so beautiful. Wrapped up on the Millennium Bridge, it did feel like tonight there was a possibility we might see a Snowman soaring above the Tyne.
Inside, the concert hall was bursting with excited children, hyped up by the fact that Christmas was just three sleeps away and they had been promised an ice-cream in the interval. We found our seats in the auditorium, as a flurry of projected snowflakes swirled around us and Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman stood waiting on the screen.
Surprisingly the performance began with the orchestra playing the overture of Frozen. I worried that we’d walked into the wrong performance but the conductor reassured us that The Snowman would make an appearance soon. Back in 2013, I had rejoiced over the delightful charms of Olaf the Snowman, but in 2017, when Frozen mania has held the world in its icy grips for the last four years, the charm has considerably worn off. I wasn’t sure I could handle hearing ‘Let It Go’ one more time, but performed by a live orchestra it was rather good and, in the spirit of Christmas cheer, I sang along. The orchestra were accompanied by an accomplished singer who led us all in a Christmas sing along. We sang a lot of Christmas classics – complete with actions – and during Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer, a red spotlight dashed about the room.
Children, now worn out by the energetic carolling (although equally hyped up by the promised interval ice-cream) settled down to watch and listen to The Snowman. An expectant hush fell over the audience, as the opening credits appeared and the musicians lifted their instruments. We were not disappointed. The sound that spilled from the stage was resonant and absorbing. Every note was effortlessly hummed out and the quality of a live orchestra truly did bring Raymond Briggs’ classic to life. The best bits had to be the tune when The Snowman and the little boy zoom around the hills on a motorbike; the orchestra brought a new energy and excitement to the piece. Another favourite was the piece of music the snowmen dance to at the North Pole, it almost made you want to get up and dance along!
For the iconic ‘We’re Walking in the Air,’ we were treated to a sensational performance from a young boy who matched Aled Jones in his superb singing. He received a huge round of applause from the audience; we were all stunned that he could sing so well in front of such a huge crowd.
It was all over so soon, just like The Snowman himself. My sister overheard one boy whisper to his mum, ‘Will he see the Snowman in the morning?’, a question we were glad we didn’t have to answer. Briggs’ story isn’t sentimental; it is joyous and melancholic and, because of this, it will never grow painful to watch and hear, unlike a certain Disney obsession. Sorry Olaf.
There was something so wonderful about seeing Briggs’ sketches dance across the screen above the powerful orchestra. The whole thing was better than I could have imagined. This performance would be a brilliant introduction for any child seeing an orchestra for the first time but, equally, a fantastic night out for any adults wanting to hear and see Briggs’ classic live.