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Review - Snakehead

The Hope Theatre

Playing until 24th June 2023

Book: Samuel Rees

Musical Directors: Max Alexander-Taylor, Max Whelton

Director: Samuel Rees

Producer: Ella Dale

Review {AD-PR invite}

In a small town in East Anglia, where the populace is neglected and forgotten by the politicians, those in power and by the rest of the country. Those who remain there are left with no career prospects and must endure the tourists that visit the seaside town a handful of months a year. A woman known as ‘M’ (Sian Maxwell) meets a man with a summer holiday home in her town. This encounter thrusts M into a world of the rich and powerful, where she is out of place and ridiculed just because she is not like the others.

Just like the Greek tale of Medusa, the progression in Snakehead is controlled and narrative painted by the more powerful and the victor. M sets a solid foundation for the audience, about the place she is from, what the people there are like and she is just a simple girl until she is plunged into a completely different world. We follow M as she falls in love with a rich man, introduced to his upper-class friends and acquaintances, and eventually re-invented by one of these people as a scheming monster out to ensnare men. Through no fault of her own, this wealthy society dweller turned again her, because she is different to them, she is a commoner, and she must be taught a lesson. Combining vivid narratives and expressive musical numbers, Snakehead successfully conveys the innocence of a young girl and her downward spiral as her own story is re-written by others and she becomes a person she can no longer recognise.

Despite the fact that this is an enticing story, highlighting many pertinent issues of the current society, it suffers from pacing issues and an excessive level of repetition in its lyrics. While the scene setting in the first 15-20 minutes of the show is appreciated, this can be condensed into a more concise narrative with fewer songs without detrimental effect to the overall enjoyability of the show. The punk-rock musical numbers appropriately reflect M’s journey and emotions, spread evenly across the show. However, there is a high level of repetitions of lyrics within the songs. The dramatic effect of some is absolutely appropriate, but “What they told me” takes this to a whole new level and felt like a good few minutes listening to the same line over and over without significant tonal changes.

Maxwell demonstrates immense stamina in this one woman show, providing the narration and singing the musical numbers for almost 90 minutes. Maxwell is engaging, and in this small space, the direct prolonged eye contacts create a sense of unease, as one might feel if stared at by Medusa. Once M starts to be described as a monster, the level of eye contact evidently reduces, as she shies away from the gazes of others and retreats into her own world.

It is important to note that there is significant use of flashing lights as warned by the creatives. However, I want to emphasise that this is in fact used throughout the entire show, primarily during the musical numbers. Even though I appreciate these are used to create dramatic effects and a sense of unease, the extent in which it is used is too much. At various moments of the show, I had to look away or close my eyes as I felt I was physically unwell as a result of the exposure.

Snakehead is a story between the powerful and the exploited, dominated by the victor's narratives and the powerless left to face their new reality. It is a tale with ample potential and one the society needs to remember and reflect on. Despite the pacing and repetitive use of lyrics, the creatives have produced a successful reimagined story using a modern narrative.

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