Review: Snake in the Grass, The Print Room

“We can’t live in a caravan”

Snake in the Grass is the London premiere of this Alan Ayckbourn play which is a rarity in itself as it marks one of his forays away from his more usual comedy. It is described by Ayckbourn himself as ‘a ghost play’, but it is more obviously a psychological thriller, threaded through with recognisable hints of class struggles and flashes of mordant humour. Directed by Lucy Bailey, who with Anda Winters have converted this Notting Hill warehouse into one of London’s newest new fringe venues, The Print Room.

Set in the grounds of a large country house, the play follows two sisters who are reunited after 20 years following the death of their authoritarian father. Annabel escaped her father’s clutches to Tasmania only to find new devils there, whilst Miriam stayed to care for their father but was driven to extreme measures. Finding themselves back together and then visited by a vindictive former nurse of their father’s who was dismissed, they find themselves having to deal both with the haunting ghosts of the past and the psychological threats of the present.

Susan Wooldridge as the older Annabel and Sarah Woodward as Miriam were both excellent at portraying the fractious relationship between the estranged siblings, forced together by circumstance and having to deal with the blackmailing demands from Mossie Smith’s abrasive Alice and whilst all three women delivered strong performances, Woodward was particularly outstanding at charting the multiplities of Miriam’s psyche.

Staged in traverse, with the audience sat either side of William Dudley’s effectively designed overgrown and disused tennis court, all aspects of this production slotted together extremely well with Richard Howell’s eerie lighting and Neil Alexander’s sinister sounds ratcheting up the tension as the plot wound its way to its twisty conclusion. So something of a pleasant surprise as an atypical Ayckbourn and an unmissable opportunity to see acting talent as superb as Sarah Woodward up close and personal.

This was my first trip to the Print Room in West London and I have to say I was most impressed: a friendly front-of-house team, funky toilets (in the gents at least) and the sense of a venue full of potential. It reminded me of the Arcola in that it feels like it is going to be a highly flexible space and as the next programmed show is a rarely-performed Tennessee Williams play, Kingdom of Earth, I will be returning with keen interest.

Running time: 90 minutes (without interval)
Programme cost: £1
Booking until 5th March

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