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Snowflake by Mike Bartlett at Kiln Theatre | Review

Amber James (Natalie), Elliot Levey (Andy). Credit Manuel Harlan.
Amber James (Natalie), Elliot Levey (Andy). Credit Manuel Harlan.

I know from indirect experience that there are people at the time of writing who are no longer on speaking terms with one another because, like Andy (Elliot Levey) and his daughter Maya (Ellen Robertson), they held differing viewpoints on That Referendum (yes, I am slightly concerned that if I mentioned the ‘B’ word, you might immediately stop reading). Set on the evening of Christmas Eve, Andy has hired out the village hall in an unspecified part of Oxfordshire for the princely sum of ten pounds, as the ‘neutral venue’ for a reunion, a kind of reconciliation meeting. When it’s Natalie (Amber James) who walks through the door, a rather different conversation than the one Andy envisaged begins.

This effectively being a Christmas story, on its own merits it’s as contrived as most of the other Christmas stories out there. What on earth is all this about a meeting in a world of Skype, social media, direct messaging and – if one really must – voice telephone calls? The irony of the one who voted ‘remain’ then leaving home aside, it becomes clear when Maya finally shows up and starts telling her story that there’s a whole lot more to what went on than just their standpoints on the UK’s future association with the European Union.

It will come as no surprise to those who have ever found themselves – either by design or by default – in the role of mediator between opposing parties, that an inability and/or unwillingness to listen to the other side and take their views seriously played a major part in the breakdown, over time, of the father/daughter relationship. The show’s programme contains an interesting article about how to argue constructively, and one can see how principles such as ‘listen and don’t interrupt’ and making a genuine attempt to find out why the other party thinks and feels differently isn’t always followed in the course of the play’s narrative.

That said, if the dialogue ends up being rather messy and complicated, that does at least increase its credibility as representative of the kind of conversation that might actually take place in similar circumstances. Particularly in the first half (which is all exposition on Andy’s part), there are ‘dad jokes’ galore. Quite refreshingly, all of the viewpoints are treated with equal validity. I didn’t exactly come out of the theatre fuming about how biased it was in favour of one side or the other.

As far as the production goes, the set (Jeremy Herbert) is more than sufficiently detailed to leave little to the imagination – this is indeed a village hall, complete with plastic chairs in various states of disrepair. The electrics are ageing and temperamental: Andy’s sense of humour being what it is, he might well jestingly apply those same characteristics to himself. The discussions surrounding the referendum are, surprisingly – shockingly, even – remarkably engaging, testament to Mike Bartlett’s intelligent script. It is also, given the subject matter, mercifully brief, coming in at the ‘right’ side of two hours.

I very much doubt the play will change anybody’s mind about Europe, but that was never its intention in any event. Rather, it seeks to present opposing views for what they are, without judgement or prejudice. The overall conclusion (without giving away any narrative details) seems to be that everybody is a ‘snowflake’, because there are things that provoke an emotional response of some kind. To not have any feelings at all is to be inhuman. A most thoughtful and topical seasonal show.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Andy’s 43. He loves nostalgic TV and pints down the pub. His daughter Maya is 21. She left home three years ago and hasn’t spoken to him since. This Christmas, Andy knows she’s coming back – Maya knows she’s not.

Snowflake is an epic story about generational conflict, fathers and daughters, and whether we’re living in the best or worst of times…

The critically-acclaimed festive hit by Olivier Award-winning and BAFTA-nominated Mike Bartlett (King Charles III, Doctor Foster), directed by Olivier Award-winner Clare Lizzimore (Bull), makes its London debut at Kiln Theatre.

DURATION: 1 hour 50 mins
DATES: 10 Dec 2019 – 25 Jan 2020

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