BY RICHARD STAMP
Oh, I just have no idea how to review this show. I loved it, even when I hated it; I admired the plot, though I often suspected I hadn’t understood it at all; I winced at the jokes even as I rocked with laughter… and although, deep down, I think it must be wonderful, I’m honestly not sure I can tell you why. But hey, I’m a professional, and nobody ever said this would be easy. So bear with me as I give it a go.
The sound of a howling blizzard welcomes the central character, Chester James, to the stage; ably portrayed by real-life Aussie Danny Alder, Chester’s abandoned his scorching bush-land home for a stint guarding an island near the North Pole. Driven to the edge of madness by his solitary stay, Chester begins a dialogue with a cast of fictitious animal friends. The imaginary menagerie is led by an inflatable reindeer’s head – yes, really; the donkey to Chester’s Shrek, the talkative moose supports our hero through a convoluted foray into his memories of a troubled past.
So who is Chester? Why’s he exiled himself to the North Pole, and does he really want to go home? You’ll have to concentrate if you want to unearth the answers: the backstory’s revealed gradually and subtly, with a single misplaced word often furnishing the critical clue. It’s a cleverly self-referential plot, which manages to blur the boundaries of invention and reality without ever resorting to Matrix-like naffness. Even by the end of it all, you won’t be sure you’ve quite pieced together what was really going on.
But for all its depth, this is first and foremost a very funny show. Much of the humour revolves around its many utterly unexpected diversions – and I can’t say too much about the weirder oscillations, lest I spoil the whole experience for you. I’m not giving the game away, though, when I mention it had song and dance numbers, a few exceptionally bad puns, and a talking polar bear. The fact that the dialogue is all in Chester’s mind has almost unbounded comic potential; in one inspirationally offbeat number, his lead vocals begin to argue with their own backing track.
With so many weirdly creative ideas packed into a single hour-long performance, the show’s continuity sometimes fell down – and on the night I visited, Alder’s generally-compelling performance didn’t build up quite enough momentum to carry me through the final manic scenes. One interlude, played entirely off a tape to an empty stage, was far too long; and a few of the props were a bit too am-dram for a production of this overall quality. But that’s the critic in me speaking. My less world-weary self watched in wide-eyed wonder, while the crowd around me whooped and hollered in delight… and once I’d witnessed the talking reindeer’s hilariously touching finale – you’ll know it when you see it – I forgot and forgive all.
So in the final analysis, it’s a big thumbs-up for A Fistful Of Snow: wacky, thoughtful and funny, it’s a rough-hewn gem of a play. You might join me in loving it… or you might wonder what I, and its authors, were on. But one thing I can say with certainty: miss it at your peril. You’ll be waiting a long time to see its like again.