SNAKE IN THE GRASS
Bear Pit Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Friday 1st November, 2019
Two estranged sisters are reunited in the neglected garden of their family home, following the death of their abusive father. The elder, Annabel, hasn’t been back for decades, but stands to inherit the lot. It fell to the younger sister, Miriam, to care for the old bastard, with the help of a hired nurse, whom Miriam has recently sacked. The nurse, Alice, confronts Annabel, claiming to have evidence that Miriam had a direct hand in the death of her father. Blackmail rears its ugly head and Annabel finds herself in a situation where she is forced to protect her sister… So begins Alan Ayckbourn’s taut little thriller, a tale of coercion, bitterness, resentment, and murder. More celebrated for his comedies, Ayckbourn shows here a different string to his bow. The premise, the intrigue, and the subsequent twists and turns are Hitchcock-worthy. A deceptively simple three-hander, the play offers plum parts for older women to get their teeth into. moustache of epic proportions.
Rachel Alcock plays hard-faced Annabel, who barely lightens up at all and remains rather severe throughout. It is the character’s defence mechanism, I suppose, given the tribulations of her life, but I would like to see her reveal a more vulnerable and sympathetic side – especially during her lengthy speech about her failed marriage.
Alex Kapila turns in a compelling performance as the disturbed Miriam, displaying emotional immaturity one minute and inner fire the next. As the power shifts around the trio, we’re forever changing our minds about who exactly is the victim here.
Completing the trio is Barbara Treen, pitch perfect as the sinister blackmailer. Ayckbourn’s superlative writing is in good hands with these three, and director Lynda Lewis navigates the highs and lows, the lights and shades of the dialogue to great effect. The physical action needs to be tighter; the actors need more confidence in their moves, and I think the climactic scene in the middle of the night can afford to be darker, so that almost all of the lighting comes from the two handheld lanterns. This would augment the eeriness and the unsettling nature of proceedings.
There are more scares to be had if the director pushed the envelope just a little farther. Still, this is a solid and entertaining production of a dark and clever play, and it’s well worth an evening of your time.