A London Dreamtime: The Snow Queen at the Union Chapel in Islington

Constantly yearning for more dramatizations of Hans Christian Andersen’s oeuvre, I am blocking my calendar immediately when hearing that the London Dreamtime / Cunning Folk bunch does a personal favourite of his literary fairy tales, The Snow Queen. I have been to storytelling events by Vanessa Woolf and George Hoyle before; an evening walk by candlelight at Richmond riverside coming with murder stories sung and told comes first to mind, and more myths of the river Thames in Southwark Cathedral. This is the first storytelling session at Daylight Music, a Saturday midday concert series at Union Chapel in Islington, North London, which has been going on for eleven years. I am here for the first time and I love the relaxed welcome – dropping our donations when entering (and there is quite a queue before the doors open) we eye up an impressive cake buffet and hear a violin from the church’s gallery. People purchase tea and coffee served in donated china mugs and carry their ordered salads and sandwiches to their seats. With the instruments already on stage this promises to be potentially my new musical brunch destination. All money goes back to the organizers and the charitable institutions they collaborating with, often finding work experience here; what’s not to love?

Storytelling, live music and cake – what a way to start a weekend!

Then we hear of Gerda and Kai and how a demon’s mirror corrupts their friendship, driving Kai’s thoughts to icy rationality and in the arms of the Snow Queen, far away in the North. On her journey to save him, Gerda faces many obstacles and the audience is invited to recreate the atmosphere with shaving foam snow, cinnamon and cloves before each of the two intervals when the violin player returns at the gallery. My eyes repeatedly move to a girl of maybe five years not far away from us, wearing her Elsa dress under a matching anorak. Chin on the pew, she is absolutely hypnotised by Vanessa the storyteller, and will turn to her colouring and Victoria Sponge only when songs are played, and the narrating pauses. I wonder how watching Frozen will feel for her next time.

The doors open five minutes before the event starts – we waited on park benches close-by

Not recalling having been to a head-set storytelling before, admittedly this is a less intimate experience but then again, live music plays a big part today: Moog and keyboards are amplified as well as electric guitars, playing along the church organ. Before today I have not considered Bowie’s Heroes as a fairy tale hymn but now it is and so are songs of The Doors and Nirvana. And people get up to stock up on food and drinks, children move and point and whisper noisily, eager to share the wonders they have just discovered in both the adventure and the venue. This is a get-together, and everyone seems welcome – people of all ages sit on their own, in pairs and groups. I cannot think of a better way of starting the weekend. It was worth setting the alarm clock last night.

Donate: Money… Time… Mugs…

**** out of 5 stars

Daylight Music continues most Saturdays – on this day the pay-what-you-can principle recommended a donation of £5

3 thoughts on “A London Dreamtime: The Snow Queen at the Union Chapel in Islington

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