ONE of the mysteries of the past few years at York Theatre Royal has been the absence of York playwright Mike Kenny from the programming.

Once he was the go-to writer for myriad commissions, from E Nesbit's The Railway Children to the 2012 York Mystery Plays and In Fog And Falling Snow at the National Railway Museum. Glory be, he returns after an hiatus stretching into a fourth year, albeit that this commission has come from Leeds company Tutti Frutti, for a touring co-production with the Theatre Royal.

Snow Queen reaffirms Kenny's status on the premier tier of children's theatre writers. He had travelled through the deep snow of Hans Christian Andersen's story once before, more than a decade ago at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, and initially was unsure he would "have anything new to say" about Kai and Gerda, "two ordinary kids going through adolescence and meeting each other again on the other side".

Then he re-read Andersen's story and new thoughts blossomed like the huge-headed red roses on Grandma's verandah. Without giving too much away, he has found a reason for a winter chill to settle on the heart of young Kai (Mitchel Wolfe), all joy submerged by grief.

Kai and Gerda (Hannah Victoria) live in next-door flats on the top floor of a tower block on the edge of a big town; best friends who play on the balcony, or their sledges, until tragedy strikes, whereupon the ever wonderful Ivan Stott's initially happy songs begin to turn to ice.

You can feel the force of Kai's sledge being drawn inexorably to the devious Snow Queen's ice-palace – a splendid piece of directing by Wendy Harris – as his feelings shut down. Narrator Joanne Sandi – the show's best singer – dons a full-length, hooded silver puffer coat to transform into the Snow Queen, part of designer Kate Bunce's modern, street look for the costumes.

To contrast with the perennial deep midwinter where Kai now resides, struggling forlornly to make the word "Forever" out of a broken mirror at the Snow Queen's demand, Kenny and Harris give vibrant colour to Gerda's early steps on her journey to save him, distracted initially by flower power and next a Robber Woman and Robber Girl. Writer and director achieve just the right balance between the boy's sorrows and the shards of humour that burst through Gerda's encounters.

Hannah Victoria has plenty on her plate to handle as Gerda, in a performance that captures the ups and downs, the constant discoveries, the unguarded dangers, of childhood, and so the multi-role playing falls to Wolfe (a Wolfe in everything but sheep's clothing) and Sandi, who relishes the contrast between icy Snow Queen and the kindly Grandma.

Snow Queen handles big themes – loss, loyalty, friendship, poverty – but children as young as three will love the magical storytelling, the songs, the snow and the adventurous heroine.

Snow Queen, Tutti Frutti and York Theatre Royal, at York Theatre Royal Studio until October 13, then on tour. Box office: 01904 623568 or at