A children’s play about a magical spider that helps a young boy on a dangerous adventure? After a month of poufy pantos, limp Nutcrackers, and disappointing Dickens, this seemed to me like a great change of pace, even if it was billing itself as a “timeless Christmas show” and all the trees had just been taken away by the binmen two days ago. And the story sounded interesting – a mix of Charlotte’s Web and a quest-driven fairy tale. As a bonus, it promised Welsh mythology/folklore and music, which I know next to nothing about.
To summarize the story: 9 year old Gwyn is living in an unhappy home, thanks to his sister’s disappearance four years ago. His parents seem unwilling to move forward with their lives, and his father blames Gywn directly for the accident. But his grandmother sees him as the potential heir to a legacy of wizardry, and as a birthday gift gives him five items that might help unlock his powers. Gwyn embraces this heritage, but his own quirkiness combined with a propensity for oversharing leave him more alone than ever. He’s been promised that a wizard gets whatever he wants, but having his family get back to the state they once were seems fairly impossible, and watching him try to make this come true is the main thrust of this play (which has serious shades of Escape from Witch Mountain).
The Snow Spider touches on many important themes of childhood – the support of your parents, the desire for close friendships, bullying – but makes them magical with a heavy dusting of Welsh culture (music, fairy tales, and even some spoken language). This magic is somewhat counteracted by the setting – modern, rural Wales, which does not seem like a place where wonderful things happen. I found the family situation a bit clunky and c confusing, but Gwyn’s relationship with his friends – and the hints of his closeness with his sister – all seem quite realistic. The magical bits are handled nicely – without spider spoilers, it’s safe to say that the cast (which occasionally acts as a chorus of chickens) nicely brings to life Gwyn’s grandmother’s enchanted cottage as well as “an evil spirit” I will leave unnamed.
Overall, this show has a bit too much crammed into its approximately two hour running time. The actors are so multiply cast that it becomes hard to keep clear who is whom; a bit of paring down of the story might have helped here. And while the music adds atmosphere, there were times when the playing was too off-beat and out of tune to not be grating. That said, The Snow Spider does have some good storytelling; just possibly not arranged in a way that would keep a child entertained for two hours.