Alan Ayckbourn has always wanted to be taken seriously, despairing of the snobbery that consigns comedies, farces and thrillers to the servants’ quarters of British theatre. He looks to redress this balance with his ‘ghostly’ Snake In The Grass, a poisonous Home Counties comedy dealing with family abuse. A tight three hander, it’s a cracking opportunity for an actress to get her hands on some emotionally ripping stuff, punctuated with one liners that would make a stand up jealous.
Lucy Bailey’s production takes a while to warm up but when it does it’s another grizzly triumph. She threads Ayckourn’s heightened naturalism into the subtly eccentric performances of her cast; these are human beings who are just a little bit…strange. William Dudley’s decaying tennis court setting is a ghost writer’s dream, resplendent with a tattered net, possessed umpires chair and echoing well. It’s one of the treats of this space that it is so versatile and so far Bailey has taken full advantage of its chameleon properties (it will be exciting to see what they do with it next).
Mossie Smith clearly relishes ‘rough as a houses’ Alice, the blackmailer who begins it all. Susan Wooldridge plays older sister Annabel like a sneering Tory, artfully melting with each horrific new development. As the glassy eyed Miriam Sarah Woodward holds court, tenderly addressing the terrifying relationship between victim and perpetrator. At points she is startling, at others immensely likeable; it’s hard to take your eyes off her and a pleasure to see such fantastic acting talent on a fringe stage.
So has Ayckbourn proven his point? Yes and no. Snake In The Grass is a hugely enjoyable roller coaster of a night out. Bailey’s production does this ghost story great justice, in an unnerving production. But just as this writer touches on moments of real psychological study and probes the darkness in us all, the predictability of these forms rears its ugly head pulling us back into the superficial and the safety of the expected. There are serious themes at work here but in the end it is hard to take them seriously.
Written for http://www.fourthwallmagazine.co.uk
Runs until 5th March 2011