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The Theatreguide.London Review

Snake In The Grass
The Print Room       February-March 2011

Snake In The Grass is Alan Ayckbourn's 2002 try at a Sleuth-style thriller. Ayckbourn is a great writer and incapable of failure, but the mode doesn't seem to have inspired his imagination much, and his version plays like a bland anthology of tricks and effects borrowed from earlier works.

You would have to have never seen Sleuth, Deathtrap, Diobolique or any stage thriller written in the past forty years not to be able to anticipate all of this play's plot twists, and while being ahead of the playwright every step of the way offers some satisfaction, it's really not enough.

Her father's death brings a woman home after 35 years to discover that the sister who stayed behind as carer murdered the old man and is being blackmailed by a nurse who has proof.

I don't want to give too much away, but when we are told early in the play that one of the sisters has a bad heart or that one has been studying electrical wiring, or when our attention is called to an old well in a corner of the set, you may not be able to write the whole rest of the play from there, but very little that happens is going to surprise you.

The only element that isn't strictly by-the-numbers is an extended sequence in which the sisters tell each other unhappy things about their pasts. Aside from confirming what we've already figured out, that one of them is a monster raving loony, it feels like irrelevant padding.

The playwright doesn't even seem to have had much fun playing with the genre. His name might suggest a comedy, and some in the audience come in primed to laugh at every line until they begin to realise that they're not jokes.

But the nearest thing to a gag - 'Did you push him down the stairs?' 'A little bit.' - is not Ayckbourn-class humour and sits uncomfortably in the ploddingly serious style of the rest.

The only way to play this sort of tosh is absolutely seriously, and it is a credit to director Lucy Bailey and her actors, Susan Wooldridge, Mossie Smith and Sarah Woodward, that they do not attempt to protect themselves with an ironic distance, but play it full out, as if they believed in it completely.

It is the performances, and not the material, that carry the evening.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Snake In The Grass - Print Room 2011


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