Monday, 7 April 2008

Snowbound by Ciaran McConville - Trafalgar Studios 2

Ok, first of all the disclaimer: This play was directed by my wife. But what follows is a genuine review of the production; we try to be very honest with each other you see.

Tom and Alex are two brothers. Alex is a bit special, or 'mental' as his brother puts it. Aspergers Syndrome makes it difficult for him to connect with other people, so whilst their sister makes a life for herself at Oxford it is Tom who cares for his brother. The gift of a camcorder from family friend and GP Gerry helps Alex to make those connections, acting like a filter as he interviews people about love. Meanwhile Tom has his own experience of love when he meets Mary, who offers him the opportunity to make that break and do something with his life. Running alongside this we see how Gerry's attachment to this surrogate family impacts on his own marriage to Janet. 'Am I collateral damage?' she asks during one of their many barbed exchanges.

To write a play which asks 'What is love?' seems a hefty undertaking, one which you couldn't possibly fulfill satisfactorily. The play spans 10 years which makes for some slightly confusing jumps in time, often clumsily signposted, but the actors show skillfully the subtle changes in their development. Karl Davies in his sensitive portrayal of Alex shows the slow growth in confidence that comes with his film making and in fact it will be he who helps his brother later in the play. Sarah Beck Mather as the sister who exploits his condition to further her own career is brave in her unsympathetic portrayal of naked ambition. Sam Hazeldine as Tom is beautifully understated. He's so used to being a carer that when he meets Katherine Manners' inspired Mary it is years before he can fully allow himself to be loved back. In one scene which hits you right in the gut, doing nothing more than laying a table for a dinner party, he shows how he has been utterly altered by the plays events. In fact the cast is uniformly strong, I only wished to see Mary's mother Clara, who got the two biggest laughs of the night, developed further than the two scenes she is allowed and as convincing as Gerry and Janet's crumbling marriage is, it never feels more than a sub-plot.

Samantha Potter's moving production moves swiftly from scene to scene, and the second half builds with such relentless emotional force that as the lights came up at the end there was some frantic wiping of eyes. I haven't seen anything like it since I went to Blood Brothers and it is a credit to the production that they were able to reduce the famously composed British audience to tears. Kerry Bradley's design transforms the small space of Studio 2, white covers are draped over the seats like dustsheets or even snowfall and the entire back wall is covered with framed family photos, memories of love past. As we entered the auditorium and during some scene changes snippets of Alex's film are projected onto this wall. This is an inspired addition, people candidly confessing their thoughts, such as a love for Richard Branson or chocolate whilst others with their silence or rumination show how difficult it really is to say what love is.

And if you don't believe me, The Independent made Snowbound one of its top 5 plays last week.

Snowbound runs until April 19th at Trafalgar Studios 2. Click here for the website or call the Box Office on 0870 060 6632


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