29 April 2017
Inspired by Norse mythology, The Snow Dragons is Lizzie Nunnery's refashioning of those tales of heroes and gods into a modern parable of dystopia and resistance. A ragtag band of kids hide out on a hill while tanks roll into their village, and while at first it's fun to sabotage the incoming army from afar, as the troops close in they have to deal with the harsh realities of war and survival.
The lookout-tower set in CYA@HOME's staging gives us a vision of the kids' hideout hut – all wooden panels, rope-ladders and toy swords – and the young cast run riot in, over and around it. Each character is well-developed and played with exuberance, from the emphatic ringleader Raggi to Odd, the ostracised young boy who ends up holding the key to a crucial act of resistance. Also setting the scene are the hideout's surrounding trees, given voices by cast members in matching green tunics, who witness everything and speak in meaningful poetic tones.
The ensemble work very well together to tell the story confidently – stumbling over lines causes a couple of performers to make frustrated faces, but these are rare lapses in a largely smooth performance. The pacing is good, although occasionally the performers need to speak more slowly and pronounce words more clearly. Ensemble comedy in the script is played to great effect by the young cast: whether bickering with each other, competing in tales of derring-do, or constantly talking about how hungry they are, they all display great comic timing and a real sense of what makes each character tick.
Music and drum beats underpin some scenes, with sections of movement and chanting, which tend to run away from the music, but are delivered with style and provide an effective counterpoint to the realism of the other scenes. The children may be ordinary kids, but we see that they're heroes in their own imagination, just like the characters gang-storyteller Snorri tells them about. And maybe they're also heroes for real, facing grim war and the destruction of their village with a mixture of childlike fear and adventurous spirit.
The play ends on an ambiguous note, as the young adventurers boldly prepare to face down the invading troops. It's an ending that raises more questions than it answers. There are ideas here about the power of imagination and hope, and the fate of children in conflict, which have pressing relevance to present-day conflicts and struggles. But the play doesn't have to tie these themes up with a bow. It's just telling a story, the way Snorri tells them – to pass the time, to bring her friends together. It does it well.
Reviewer: Lizz Clark