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Review of Snakehead at Hope Theatre

Question 1: The protagonist, M (Sian Maxwell), was raised in Norfolk. She makes a big thing about growing up with “racist pig farmers” and the usual rather tired in-breeding jokes. But… she doesn’t have a Norfolk accent – or any fading vestige of one. Why is that? (Director Samuel Rees – you’re up. Perhaps discuss with writer – Samuel Rees?).

SNAKEHEAD - Photo by Steve Gregson.
SNAKEHEAD – Photo by Steve Gregson.

Question 2: Why does M have to use a microphone throughout? (Musical directors Max Alexander Taylor and Max Welton – you’re up). Yes, there are songs. So ok, mic M up for them but for all the dialogue as well? Much of it is played as a one-person, confidential chat with the audience – just two rows all round in this bijou space. Projection is not a problem: the mic gets in the way. The best bit of the play is the very short sequence when M ditches the mic and talks normally, and, you know what? We can hear every word. And there’s no constantly annoying mic thud. So director Rees (your’e up again) and double Max – DITCH THE MIC!

Pre-curtain there’s a DJ – not a deep-club-excess-all-areas-it’s-all-gone-Pete-Tong type DJ: no one of those you get in smart London bars or at parties. Doncha love it when they make minuscule movements on their (in this case rather modest) sound deck as if to convince everyone that they know what they’re doing though it makes no discernible difference at all. Then this DJ slips an electric guitar around his neck and we notice an acoustic guitar on a stand in front of the sound desk. Suddenly the lights dim, M appears and starts screaming into her microphone. Oh, I know what you’re going to say: it’s a small space, low ceiling and singing is going to be compromised. But Maxwell, unfortunately, struggles to hit a note much of the time. Some of the ‘music’ is so completely, screechingly tuneless, that it may not matter much. But we do need songs, however loud, to sit comfortably on the ear tonally. And these don’t. Not even the softer, ballady types. (Double Max – you’re up again: perhaps you could help with this offering more support on pitch?)

Although most of the backing is programmed our trusty DJ now ventures to strum a few notes on his Fender Stratocaster (I know it’s not – don’t write in) whilst the lonely acoustic just sits there and contemplates.

M relates the story of how girl from the sticks gets involved with rich London socialite-cum-businessman and ends up on the front page of ‘The Sun’. Cue death-heavy-metal-rocker-ear-porn and then her Mum cooks her fish fingers for lunch as the acoustic guitar continues to sit like Buddha using all his powers of meditation to drown out the screeching. We draw ever closer to this silent, un-amplified Gibson Hummingbird (I know it’s not – I just like the name) as it sits like an unnamed character in the wrong play at the wrong time while the continuing screechathon detonates tinnitus in our ears.

Maxwell has plenty of oomph, there’s no doubt about it. She’s a talented performer who revels in being let off the leash but the whole piece is a shouty-ranty angst-driven diatribe and we – particularly our ears – don’t get a lot of respite. Perhaps Rees – as is often the case – should have handed over the direction of his play to another director who might well have given the show a much more balanced approach, curbing some of the screeching excesses and, frankly, ditching some of the sub-East Enders narrative. With Maxwell’s undoubted talent, I genuinely believe that, pruned and shaped, the show could be much, much better.

As we cast our yearning eyes to the cool, assured serenity of our unplucked acoustic, M shrieks into the mike with the interminably repetitive lyric “What They Told Me” – penned by Welton – the sheer banality of which is offset by the solace that this must be the end and with a mind-jolting paroxysm of gravity-defying rage we breathe a sigh of relief as M hits the deck and the lights dim. Phew.

But no! Like Hydra her snakehead rises again! A short blackout in which Fender-strumming DJ (turns out he’s the Alexander-Taylor ‘Max’) wanders on to the stage without his Telecaster (I know) and picks up – yes – our beloved silent-till-now acoustic. He sits, he plucks, he strums, and M joins him – back to back on the floor and they do a nice little comfortable cuddly number, a mini acoustic set, Snakehead unplugged: NO MIC!

Peace in our time.

I think there’s an interesting play trying to get out of Rees’s script but it’s weighed down by cacophonous irrelevant musical interludes and – in this space – close encounters of the self-indulgent kind.

And in all seriousness, I think Phil Bartlett, AD of The Hope Theatre, should take note of the Health and Safety risks of such a high decibel count in a confined space for the effect on his patrons’ hearing: the show info states extended periods of loud noise & flashing lights but there were no warning notices in the foyer (that I could see) to go alongside the (non-existent) strobe/flashing lights warnings. These should be displayed prominently and maybe, like clubs and festivals, earplugs could be on offer to save audience ears and, perhaps, prevent being sued under Health and Safety law.

2 gold stars

Review by Peter Yates

England. 2023. A town in the middle of nowhere. One woman’s life is about to change forever.

Snakehead is a passionate and abrasive gig-theatre re-examination of the story of Medusa, one of mythology’s most misunderstood women.

Throughout history, Medusa has been given a rough ride. She is presented as either grotesque monster or seductive temptress, what men fear or what turns them on. Now she’s here to tell you what actually happened, sing some songs and set the record straight.

Snakehead features an exhilarating new soundtrack by composer Max Welton, which blends dark post-punk, explosive electronica, and vibrant contemporary pop to create an unforgettable immersive experience. From writer Samuel Rees, this energetic, heartfelt production examines issues around consent and accountability, class and the male gaze, and asks how exactly we decide who the monster really is.

Performer & Co-Musical Director MAX ALEXANDER-TAYLOR

6 – 24 JUN

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  • Peter Yates

    Peter has a long involvement in the theatrical world as playwright, producer, director and designer. His theatre company Random Cactus has taken many shows to the Edinburgh Fringe, the London Fringe and elsewhere and he has been associated with the Wireless Theatre Company since its inception where his short play Lie Detector can be heard: Wireless Theatre Company.

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4 thoughts on “Review of Snakehead at Hope Theatre”

  1. I think it is very fair to not enjoy a show, to even really not enjoy it, as Peter has here. But this is a downright rude review. Written with a snarky tone, this is not the kind of reviews we need in the theatre world at all! In an industry filled with hate, we should be encouraging, offering advice kingly and acknowledging any hard work. This review is a disservice to this platform and leaves a very bad taste in my mouth. Won’t be inviting to any of my upcoming work!

  2. I’d hate for anyone to be put off by the review above. I was in the audience on Friday, and it’s true I go out to gigs (and ‘gig-theatre’ in
    this case!) inclined to appreciate artists and their performances rather than take them apart. Anyway, I was impressed, excited, entertained and
    touched by a show that I felt worked very well, in a ‘bijou’ (certainly) little space which inevitably engages you with what’s happening. I’d say
    if the blurb inclines you to, be guided by that and go see it, and you’re not likely to be disappointed!

  3. I think there is a production of Little Bo Peep coming soon. Perhaps that will have music more aligned to your taste Peter?
    Snakehead on the other hand was a gritty, knarly and mean, with a soundtrack to match! Go see it and decide for yourself.

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