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Friday, 18 February 2011

Snake in the Grass at The Print Room

The Print Room continues on its quest to present obscure, controversial and exciting theatre to audiences in the capital with their production of Alan Ayckbourn’s ‘Snake in the Grass’. At their dinky little premises in Notting Hill the company hopes to shed light on this dark forgotten gem. If their version of ‘Fabrication’ didn’t prove their worth then this run of ‘Snake in the Grass’ certainly will.

Alan Ayckbourn is a much celebrated playwright, though this work is little known, and rarely performed - indeed it is the London premiere. The play introduces us to two sisters, Annabel and Miriam who have recently lost their father. It soon transpires that Miriam was in fact responsible for his sudden death, and consequently spends the duration trying to escape prison while being blackmailed by her father’s former nurse, Alice Moody. Her big sister, Annie is preoccupied with fears of her own and is reluctantly dragged into the mess, weighed down with guilt for leaving her family so many years earlier. This macabre ghost story takes many terrible twists, resulting in an unexpected and chilling conclusion.

The play is thrilling, and for those less hardy, quite terrifying. The theatre space has little air and is quite claustrophobic; the seating arrangement allows the performers to be very close to the audience - it is an intimate affair.

The all-female cast of three are brave, brassy and beastly, each of them vile in their own way. I was most impressed by Sarah Woodward as the delusional and calculating Miriam, she is scarily convincing and seems fully absorbed in the character throughout, never losing concentration. I realised, after reading the programme, that many years back I acted alongside her in Stephen Fry’s Bright Young Things’, a surprising if quite cool coincidence. Susan Wooldridge acts as the lonely older sister Annabel, she genuinely seems battered and worn out, bitter and resigned to her failures. Wooldridge acts with real bite, though occasionally stumbled over her lines. The bullying nurse Alice is played by Mossie Smith. Looking at her sweet photo in the programme it is hard to believe she is the horrible girl who stomps onto the stage. In her tacky attire, she spits and grimaces and comes across as a truly awful human being, I soon detested her. Brilliant direction comes from the talented Lucy Bailey. She obviously had a very clear vision for this production, and luckily with such an experienced cast it is well realised, her passion for the job is evident just from watching her actresses perform. Eerie lighting and music made the play even more affecting.

The Print Room have William Dudley to thank for the phenomenal set. Dudley, who has picked up seven Olivier awards for his designs, transforms the plain space into a decrepit old tennis court complete with attendant detritus: it is hauntingly atmospheric and mysterious. The floor is covered in real green moss, the walls are made of wire fencing, and scrub and bushes crowd the entrances and exits. The remains of a tennis court are clear to see in every little detail.

The Print Room is evidence that theatre does not have to have money thrown at it to thrive and produce dynamic drama. I look forward to its next offering - perhaps something a little more cheery?

Snake in the Grass continues until 5 March, book here.

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