The Rep’s Snowman has landed in South Korea. Diane Parkes reports.
Seoul is the first step to conquering Asia, says Birmingham Repertory Theatre executive director Stuart Rogers.
Working with the Korean production company Credia, the aim is for the country to create a touring production of The Snowman for the Far East. There already exist two sets, one used primarily by Sadler’s Wells at the Peacock Theatre where it is staged in the West End each Christmas and another touring set - after getting a rapturous reception in the South Korean capital at the weekend, Stuart would hope to create a third.
“With this visit to Korea, we are using local musicians rather than bringing our own out. This means there will be a team experienced in this production.
“We are also working with Korean technical staff and I know Credia are inviting Korean dancers to see the show. With a new set and local people having knowledge and experience, it would then be possible to tour in Korea or Japan.”
Stuart says one of the hindrances to the 16-year-old production travelling is the expense, which would be massively cut without transport costs and bringing expertise from the United Kingdom. “We have had a lot of interest from the Far East but this is a deceptively expensive show,” he says. “The sheer cost had made it difficult to tour in the past.
“We know there is a huge market for it here. The company who do the merchandising tell us that Asia is their largest market and there is a whole store in Japan dedicated to the show, so there is certainly the demand here.
“We have expanded the show to this point. It started in Birmingham, then we took it to the West End, then we created a second set and sent it round the UK. Now, we look at the Far East.”
Being a dance, mime and music show, there are no translation issues and associate producer Wiif Maton says there may also soon be opportunities to tour Europe. “The show is at a point where it is ready to expand,” she says. “We have had an enquiry from Copenhagen and there is also the possibility of a extensive tour in Europe around Christmas. We are looking into the possibility of it touring in Germany, Holland and Austria.”
The Snowman is a project close to the heart of composer Howard Blake so when it was suggested he come to Seoul with the show, he could not turn down the offer although Howard, who helped create the show with Bill Alexander and Robert North at Birmingham Rep in 1993, admits it was all a bit hectic.
“It has taken us about five years to negotiate this,” he recalls. “We had a visit from a couple of people from the production company in 2003 and they seemed keen. Then Credia, which is one of the biggest arts organisations in Korea, came to see the show last December and said they wanted it but they wanted to make it happen this spring - in March.
“Fortunately, we have a second production set available so everyone has rallied round and made a great effort to make it all happen.”
Howard is the face of The Snowman. The song Walking in the Air, which he wrote, is known worldwide and even has a Korean version. “I went to an interview with one radio DJ, who is the equivalent of Terry Wogan,” he says. “They played a version by a Korean woman.”
Howard made a few changes for the show, introducing a Korean character and altering the score slightly to include an excerpt of Korean folk music. “I think that went down very well,” he says.
Korean audiences loved the magic of The Snowman. “A large part of my motivation for creating the show was that we wanted to make something which uplifts people,” he says. “The Snowman is about imagination and friendship. The show is sad but also happy and it takes people into their imaginations”
Two youngsters were given the opportunity to play the role of James on stage at Seoul Opera House. Opening the show was ten-year-old Lewis Coppen, who debuted at London’s Peacock Theatre this Christmas and could not believe his luck when he was invited to Korea.
“I found out on our second-last show,” says Lewis. “I was really looking forward to the opening night.”
Lewis charmed audiences in Seoul and was looking forward to finding out about the South Korean capital. “We haven’t had much time so far but I have been told there is a really good theme park here,” he says.
Not only did he take to the stage but Lewis and his fellow James, Aedan Day, ran the gauntlet of a press conference. “I have never done anything like that before,” says Lewis. “I was OK until Aedan kept making me nervous by telling me there would be a lot of people there.”
But it is not all fun and games, as both boys have had to bring their homework with them. “I am doing it between shows and rehearsals. My school has set me work from three main subjects, maths, English and science,” says Lewis who was in Seoul with his father Richard. Unfortunately, his mother Kerry, four-year-old brother Oscar and sisters Rebekah, aged 13, and India, aged two were unable to visit as well.
For Aedan, it was a family affair as his father Kevin was with him and mother Rebecca and 14-year-old sister Katarina are jetting in for one of the final shows.
Having taken the role of James for three years at The Peacock, Aedan is an old hand but Seoul was a new experience. “I have never been on a tour before and I haven’t been to the Far East,” says the 12-year-old. “I am quite nervous as this is a really big theatre and the sound is different but it is really exciting.”
It is not easy being a Snowman says Nicholas Cass-Beggs, who shares the role with Remy Martyn. “Because they want a small boy and a big Snowman, you spend most of your time trying to look down and because your face is covered, visibility isn’t good.”
But he loves being involved in such an exciting family show. “The best part is that you get to be like a child - with that wide-eyed innocence. That is why the show is popular with people of all ages.”
Nicholas is also enjoying being in Korea. “It is a real opportunity,” he says. “I like the idea of giving back to a country by performing here rather than being a tourist. It is a different experience.”
* The Snowman returns to Birmingham Rep next January (Jan 15-31). For tickets see www.birmingham-rep.co.uk or contact 0121 236 4455.