Snake in the Grass
by Alan Ayckbourne
presented by Waterbeach Community Players
directed by Julie Petrucci
Take three neurotic women, a concealed well head and the master of the unexpected (giving us a mix of laughter and spine-tingling horror) and you have the recipe for an enthralling theatrical experience.
The auditorium lights dimmed and, immediately, the mood was set with the suitably eerie and atmospheric theme music "Return of the Fall" as the curtains opened to reveal a splendid set. A run down garden with a solid looking, yet neglected, summer house, tennis court boundary fence and various horticultural paraphernalia - I particularly appreciated the casually placed discarded flower pots.
The audience were held spellbound as the play revealed its various levels - comedy, thriller and psychological drama. Annabel Chester (Caroline Blair) arrives home after 35 years abroad to claim her inheritance from her recently deceased father. She is confronted by his former nurse, Alice Moody (Catherine Perkins), who proceeds to blackmail her with evidence that Annabel's sister, Miriam, had deliberately increased his medication and then pushed him down the stairs. Miriam (Jane Stewart) appears as a completely down trodden individual on the edge of a breakdown never having loved or been loved. However, as the pressure from Alice increases, Miriam shows great resolve and cunning in disposing of the "problem" by drugging and tipping her down the old well - the head of which had been covered by a hatch on the summer house porch. But, typically of Ayckbourn, all is not what it seems and we are taken through a series of unexpected turns until, finally, Miriam's scheming character (the snake in the grass), in a macabre final twist, achieves what she sees as her just reward for having sacrificed her life to caring for her father.
The play is perceptive and makes little subtle comments about how people behave and react to each other and we were treated to three finely balanced yet contrasting performances showing us the shifting relationships between the characters.
Annabel started out as a seemingly controlled personality but, as events took over, her vulnerability showed - this was particularly well illustrated in her scene with Miriam when she confessed the reasons for her failed marriage.
Alice was a suitably lively interpretation, albeit hiding a revengeful agenda, and an appropriate contrast and foil for the sisters - obviously a very fit lady, her disappearance into the well displayed enviable agility!!
Miriam showed considerable skill in the complexity of her character seamlessly transforming from mouse to snake with a natural progression that was totally convincing.
The technical demands of this piece were in the very capable hands of Mark Easterfield who demonstrated his expertise throughout, especially in the creepy extinguishing of the hurricane lamps, ghostly tinkling of the wind chimes and slamming of the tennis court gate. I also liked the subtle lighting changes as the lamps were moved from one area to another. Mark was ably assisted behind the scenes, particularly by unseen ghostly throwers of tennis balls which hit the fence with real force to create an alarming and dramatic effect.
So, thank you WCP and many congratulations to Julie Petrucci whose skilful direction fully exploited the talents of her three ladies holding our attention throughout and giving us a fine evening's entertainment.
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