Polly Lister doubled as principal Miss Cackle and her villainous twin sister Agatha in the production of The Worst Witch by Theresa Heskins a few years ago.
She wore both costumes at once in the most dizzying sequence, switching between roles at the speed of lightning as the sisters fought. In The Snow Queen, Nick Lane’s latest adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, at the Stephen Joseph Theater in Scarborough, Lister takes it a step further. Lister juggles the positions of another pair of good and bad sisters, the Sun Enchantress and the Snow Queen, with the kind of sugar rush you get from devouring a chocolate Advent calendar for many days.
But she also plays best friends Gerda and Kai, a cigar-chomping grandma who, like a panto lady, a scooter-riding reindeer and a raven specializing in scatological verse, flirts with the audience. In the mood for a bit of ‘poetry’? You’re in luck: Black Drop imagines the sight of droppings of birds falling like snow from the sky. Even if this spirited 90-minute production – shot before a socially detached audience – is beginning to run out of steam, Lister is a whirlwind. Often depicted by solemn puppet faces, Gerda and Kai are not the brightest heroes, and their relationship at the end of the world is not entirely persuasive. The bond is equally tenuous between the two sisters. In Paul Robinson’s production, there are a lot of clever puns and some local references, as when the Snow Queen hatches her scheme to put Santa out of business by adding to his naughty list the names of all the good kids.
In the middle of a pandemic, with its view of “the other Scarborough” and a focus on daydreaming and the wonder of imagination, Lane’s script nods to the difficulty of feeling festive. Paul Stear’s lighting creates atmospheric changes between seasons on the attractive set of Helen Coyston, whose garden design is decorated with snail-like swirl patterns, a wardrobe hiding a hedgehog DJ, and a chorus of flowers that become backup singers for the songs of Simon Slater.
And who wouldn’t want this year’s Christmas to last a little longer, when schools are closed and the weather isn’t cooperating for weeks to come? Accessible through January 31 online.