Snake in the Grass
Snake in the Grass seems a simple play - a father has died, his two estranged daughters meet for the first time in many years. the elder escaped to a new life in Tasmania, the younger remained trapped at home to look after the aging parent. It transpires that the father's death may not have been accidental. This opens the door for blackmail and threats and recriminations. An already tense situation is stretched to breaking point. the simple play is more complex than it first appears.
The play has only three characters - Annabel (Sue Hinton) the eldest sister who returns after the funeral; Miriam (Penny Lamport) her younger sister who has cared for their father through his illness, and Alice Moody (Sarah McLane), the nurse who has been dismissed by Miriam. All the action takes place in the garden of the family home, the stage is set with a summer house, a garden bench and the fence and gate leading to the tennis court. In actual fact there is very little "action". The vast majority of the play is made up dialogue between the three characters. The most active scene -the murder scene ( this is a murder story) - is brilliantly funny and creates an unexpected relief from the bickering and carping of the sisters.
Penny Lamport is excellent as the highly strung, over emotional Miriam she swings from an almost childlike angst to ingenuous sisterly concern, to biting sarcasm and a chilling, calculating demeanour, like chameleon changing colours. Miriam is a complex character and clearly there is much more to her than the frightened wreck we first encounter. Annabel is more straight forward - the archetypal British, no nonsense, keep up appearances at all costs type - practical, proud, unrelenting exterior hiding a mass of insecurity and played with the typically school ma'amish air by Sue Hinton.
The acting, the scenery, the offstage sound effects are all well executed. The tension between the women builds throughout and the final denouement is amusing - despite the dark undertones. However something about this play doesn't quite work for me. It feels almost as if Alan Ayckbourn tried to fit too much into it - too many secrets, too much treachery, plus a hint of supernatural.It touches on some heavy issues without actually dealing with them - unless criminal insanity is to be seen as the only possible result of an abusive, controlling relationship. Despite the excellent portrayals I did not feel any empathy towards the characters, except finally I feel a little sorry for poor Alice. There are many snakes in the grass here but in the end they all get what they deserve.
It is a slick production, and all the elements in it work but overall I felt Snake in the Grass was lacking something. Comments from the rest of the audience as we were leaving were all positive so perhaps this particular play was just not for me? Go see it and tell me what you think.
It runs until Sat 8th April.