Journeys of exploration are revered in British culture. From Charles Darwin’s Beagle voyage to Ernest Shackleton’s polar expedition, stories of pioneering men are widely celebrated. I say men, because these are the stories we largely hear about – despite plenty of examples otherwise. In Britain, the heroic journey has usually been understood as white, colonial and, well, male.
A Hundred Words for Snow presents a different vision. The play details a young girl’s journey to fulfil her father’s dreams of visiting the North Pole, running away from home with his ashes, a backpack, and her mother’s credit card. Effortlessly funny and profoundly moving, A Hundred Words for Snow is not so much about polar expedition as it is about the girl’s own self-discovery, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
A Hundred Words for Snow has one of those scripts that is almost annoying in how good it is. In Rory, Tatty Hennessy has created a character who is smart, courageous, and while a little understandably naïve, endearing in her determination, and charming in her refreshingly blunt humour. Writing children is no easy feat, but Tatty pulls off something special – capturing a child’s enthusiasm for the world as well as the all-too-real anxieties of growing up and grieving what is lost, while gaining much more in the bargain.
Gemma Barnett is (if you’ll forgive the cliché) a revelation. A good script is nothing without a good actor to bring it home, and A Hundred Words for Snow is blessed with a sublime one. I was impressed not only with her comic timing but her perfectly observed and nuanced performance of a girl coming to terms with loss and her own burgeoning womanhood. This powerhouse performance does not come from nowhere, and director Lucy Jane Atkinson deserves credit for getting the best out of Barnett which, as it turns out, is an awful lot.
A Hundred Words for Snow is as near-perfect a show as they come. My only regret was its short running-time, as I could have easily spent another hour in Rory’s company learning about arctic explorers and their darkly hilarious escapades, or the writings of Amundsen, or the five different North Poles. Whether or nor the Inuits have a hundred words for snow, I am running out of words to tell you how brilliant this show is. Just go see it.
A Hundred Words for Snow is showing at Trafalgar Studios until Saturday 30 March. Tickets are available from the website.