I love that I get to create and build imaginary people, and how they transform from loose sketches to fully formed characters
Morna Young, who has adapted Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen for The Lyceum's stage, sat down with us to talk about the show, the rehearsal process, and the festive season:
What makes The Snow Queen a great tale for the festive season?
An icy warrior queen? A quest to rescue your best friend? An epic adventure through snow storms and frosty forests? The Snow Queen is a story that bursts with wonder, and the ideal Christmas show for audiences of all ages.
When the Lyceum asked me to adapt and relocate this story to Scotland, they gave me the word “epic” for inspiration. It was a real bairn in a sweetie shop moment – and there were endless glorious possibilities. I was especially taken by the idea of drawing on and weaving Scottish myths into this icy folktale to really root it in our landscape. And who could resist a flight with Scotland’s national animal, the unicorn? The journey up and onward from the original story also opened the same travelling possibilities within Scotland too – and it was wonderful fun to explore the different landscapes and dialects that our gutsy heroine Gerda encounters as she quests north to reach her oldest friend. She’s a fighter quine and I adore her plucky spirit.
In this stage version of The Snow Queen, we’ve also got beautiful music created by Finn Anderson, and gorgeously fun staging and movement by Cora Bissett and Jack Webb. It’s a show is filled with love and humour, and I hope audiences will feel all warm hearted by the end of our icy folky fairy-tale.
When did you first start writing plays?
I started writing my first play, Lost at Sea, in 2012. I’d never tried playwriting before but I’d worked as an actor, and I’d written lots of stories and articles. Funnily enough, even though Lost at Sea was my first play, it didn’t get staged until 2019 so several of my other plays were produced before it; mostly, because it was a big old show so it took a really long time for us to produce it.
Have you ever written a Christmas show before?
In 2020, I wrote a digital theatre piece for the Lyceum’s season of Christmas Tales – my story, A Fairy Tale, was about a little fairy with a broken wing and I loved watching it on the big screen at home. So The Snow Queen is my debut live Lyceum play - and I’m delighted to share this work on such a beautiful and iconic stage.
Have you ever worked with Cora Bissett before? What's been the best thing about working with her?
This is my first time working with Cora, although it feels like we’ve both been dreaming up ideas together for ages because we first started developing The Snow Queen in December 2019. Originally, we were programmed as the 2020 production but, of course, had to postpone. In the subsequent years, we discussed staging a smaller version of show but both Cora and I wanted to wait until the right time where we could present the “epic” production that we both dreamed of.
Cora has got a great sense of humour, is brilliantly creative, and I love that she’s always up for experimenting. Both of us are musicians too, so the musical element of this show felt really key to us. I’ve known Cora’s work for years, so it’s been really exciting for me to work with someone whose work I really admire.
What was it like working on the songs with Finn Anderson?
Finn and I have worked really closely on this show because I wrote the original lyrics and then we played with them together as the music landscape developed. We’d discuss key words to describe the feel and narrative function of the songs, and then Finn would perform his magic – more often than not, it felt like he could see into my brain, because the songs he’d create always felt like the dream version of what I’d roughly imaged. Sometimes we’d pass lyrics back and forth, and other times the original lyrics just fitted perfectly, so it felt like a brilliant, flexible and gorgeously creative process. I love the variation from epic songs like “Can you Hear Me?” at the end of Act 1 to the bonkers flower ditty “ Oh My! What Pretty Little Garden”.
I’ve always been a huge fan of Finn’s work, but we really began to talk about projects together when Andrew Panton at Dundee Rep did some “creative matchmaking” because he thought we’d work well together. As it turned out, we’re got really similar tastes and there’s loads of crossover in the themes we’re interested in, so Andrew really hit the nail on the head with that collaboration suggestion.
Do you have a favourite moment in the show?
This is a tough one because there’s so many moments that I love. The moment that I felt most excited to write was Hamish’s flight at the end of Act 1 and the song “Can You Hear Me?” – I could really feel the joy and magic when imagining this scene, and it felt like a little nod to my child self who would have been totally captivated by it. Who doesn’t love a flying pink unicorn?
Another moment I love is the song Quines Gotta Fight – not just because I adore Senga as a character! The lyrics for this one just spilled out, so it felt like a real joy to write, and Finn really embraced the words to create this gutsy, bold, fighting song. It’s also the moment that Gerda really transforms from a plucky kid into a wee warrior, and I love that she earns Senga’s respect through hard work and persistence. It’s the tune that I find myself singing around the house.
Did you come to the theatre when you were a child?
I’m from a little fishing village in Moray, so there wasn’t really a local theatre near me – but, at Christmas time, we’d get the bus across to either Eden Court in Inverness or His Majesty’s in Aberdeen, and I absolutely loved those trips. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the feeling of awe at seeing a flying carpet or fairy godmother moment of transformation. These sort of fairytale retellings are really what seeded the magic of theatre for me and, honestly, I think I’ve been chasing that ever since. There’s really nothing better than experiencing wonder like that. These experiences also meant that I spent a lot of my childhood writing my own little retellings of fairytales – so I’m sure my childhood self would find it absolute wild that it’s now part of my job to do such things!
What's your favourite part of being a playwright?
Each and every project is different but, in general, developing characters is my favourite part. I love that I get to create and build imaginary people, and how they transform from loose sketches to fully formed characters. There’s usually a click moment for me when I can “hear” a character’s voice, and that always feels quite magical. I know I’ve cracked it when I really care about the character I’m writing, and find myself rooting for them. This was definitely the case with the Snow Queen, and its array of gorgeous, colourful characters. I really had a ball developing Corbie, Hamish, Senga, Wise King, The Seer – they just felt so fun, rich and joyous – and the brave and bold Gerda too. I love them all.
There’s also nothing more magical than seeing your work staged, and to feel an audience laugh. That will always fill my heart.
Where do you draw inspiration from for your work in general?
From everywhere and everything! I love that being curious is part of my job, and that I get to explore different ideas, stories, people and places. One week I could be researching Scottish mythology, and the next week I could be knee-deep in studying parrots. That variation feels really exciting, and it’s a brilliant feeling to be slowly swept up into an idea when the imagined world begins to form.
I think there are definite themes that repeat in my work– and there are absolutely hints of these in The Snow Queen! Heart is always my key ingredient with the plays I write, but I always love to mix in a little humour and music too.
What does the festive season and Christmas mean to you?
I love experiencing awe and wonder, and Christmas is the perfect time to embrace a little joy and magic. It’s also a time to share in whatever way we can. I love writing Christmas cards, and reaching out to friends from afar, and the chance to catch up with friends and family; but I also always try to volunteer, because it can also be a lonely time for so many people.
The Snow Queen is playing from 23 November to 31 December. Don't miss your chance to see this magical adaptation. Book your tickets in the link below: