The winter season is one of inherent magic and wonder. As the Winter Solstice approaches with the coming of longer, lighter days, and the prospect of mid-winter festivals and holidays offer some joyous respite from the cold and the damp, we find ourselves drawn to the bewitching power of stories. Now is the time for Christmas Specials of our favourite shows, of reading classics like Dickens’ A Christmas Carol whilst sipping on warm hot chocolate or mulled wine, and if you were raised in the UK, most of us will be familiar with the traditional Christmas theatre outing to the annual pantomime. 2020 has been an extraordinary year for all of us, and while many of our usual traditions have been thrown into a state of flux in light of these strange and unusual times, there is still magic to be found in the telling of seasonal tales.
Though many Christmas shows this year have made the move into digital performance, it was with incredible fortune that I was able to see the new and charming creation of Black Hound Productions within an actual theatre. Indeed, stepping into an auditorium for the first time in over nine months was a rather emotional moment, and there was a strong sense within the show itself of the weight of this tenuous new world of performance during a pandemic. The significance of this play being able to perform in these times when giants of the London theatre scene have fallen silent was not lost in this play, and in many ways, this subtle self awareness strengthened the poignancy of this already pretty poignant show.
Created by Patrick Withey and Benjamin Hardy-Phillips, with a story based upon a Bulgarian folk tale, Bea and the Winter Winds tells the story of a young girl’s journey to save the Spirit of the Feast from the clutches of the wicked Jack Frost, and thus prevent the world from falling into an eternal winter. It’s the perfect recipe for a family show at Christmas, and Black Hound Productions deliver something truly magical. With a set that feels inspired by the minimalist, almost steam-punk esque creations of recent Bristol Old Vic and National Theatre productions, and songs that would have even the most curmudgeonly Scrooge tapping their feet, this charming show is the perfect way to indulge in the spirit of the season. Indeed, after the year this has been, we certainly need a healthy dose of joyous escapism.
Anabella Fairgrieve shines as the titular Bea, providing the bright, warm heart of the show as we follow her on her adventures through the frozen woods and mountains on her quest to save the Feast. Her talents truly soar in the musical numbers, and indeed Fairgrieve should be one to look out for on the musical theatre circuit in years to come. Then of course, what would a Christmas show be without its larger than life villain? Pete White gives us just that with his vampy Jack Frost, strutting about the stage like a crystalline Mick Jagger, ready to turn any swooning fangirls into icicles – he commands the stage with just the right amount of nefarious evil and showman’s panache. Yet it is the comedic talents of Patrick Withey and Tiffany Rhodes that really captured my heart. I’ve always been the one to fall in love with the anthropomorphic animal side kicks of fairytale heroes, and indeed, Alistair McNutty and Rita Squeaker are two characters worthy of such adoration. The rapport between Rhodes and Withey was a joy to watch, and their mirthful addition to the narrative pulls the story away from any kind of over earnestness.
This is a joyful show that provides a real festive tonic after a strange and tumultuous year. In these socially distanced times, Bea and the Winter Winds reminds us of the value of stories and community. Even if we can’t be with one another in the ways we usually are, we can still recognise our appreciation of one another and live in the hope that this long metaphorical winter of COVID-19 will soon be broken. For now, we can take pleasure in the small things, and shows like Bea and the Winter Winds certainly offer a bit of heartfelt sparkle at this festive time of year.