Snake in the Grass

Like an ageing heavyweight journeyman boxer, this 61st offering from Sir Alan Ayckbourn is a bit tired, has only a slugger’s chance of being a contender and, you get the feeling, is probably only in it for the money. It lacks the chiselled fleet-footedness of others in its weight class like Sleuth and the ability to deliver a knockout blow like Deathtrap. Many view him as a great writer, impervious to failure, but this work lacks imagination and is pretty standard. Clues given early in the piece mean that your proverbial qualification in brain surgery or rocket science isn’t going to be required.

Bearing this in mind, the performances generally work well. Younger sister Miriam Chester’s (Carole Willison) mutation from downtrodden ‘spinster of the parish’ to irrational psycho-bitch is effective. This performance leaves you in no doubt that there is a picnic somewhere out there with a whole Tupperware box of sandwiches unaccounted for. The forthrightness of elder sister Annabel Chester (Jane Wright) erodes effectively as the play progresses, this once-successful businesswoman becoming a gibbering shell of her former self. The final member of this triumvirate is Alice Moody (Annie Robertson), former nurse to the sisters’ recently deceased father. Although this role is a catalyst for the sisters’ initial unity, it also adds an incongruity to the plot, throwing up questions relating to genre identity.

Pace in the first half was good. Reactions within the dialogue bubbled along swimmingly and brought about touching elements of pathos. However, this slowed measurably in the second half with the introduction of two sizeable monologues that crunched through the gears without picking up where the first half left off. An awkward inactivity would have been improved by judicious editing of this slightly repetitive script.

The set is well conceived and cleverly put together. Attention to detail here is impressive. Questionable, though, was the use of microphones. Firstly, I doubt that the actors actually needed them, and secondly, a faint yet noticeable reverb was ever-present throughout the first half and periodically in the second half. Also off-putting was the seemingly over-zealous prompt, at times delivering the line simultaneously with the actor.

Further performances of this generally enjoyable production can be caught at Kinson Community Centre on 23, 24 and 25 March, starting at 7.30.