„Snake in the Grass“ by Alan Ayckbourn. The New Play at the English Theatre of Hamburg

„Listen girls, I want 100.000 pounds – cash down.“

The good news of the day: The English Theatre is back after a long absence due to the corona pandemic. Rejoice dear aficionados of the TET! What’s more, we are presenting a new play by the most prolific of all living British play writers Alan Ayckbourn. This time the author has concocted a thriller spiced with loads of black humour and a number of shocking scenes that make your blood freeze in the veins.

“Snake in the Grass” is a very “twisty” play. Whenever you think you know who of the three women on the stage could be the scheming person, so to speak the snake lingering in the grass, you find out that you are entirely wrong. Ayckbourn is a master of twists. In this play one twist is followed by another one. By the way, do not be afraid of a real snake, an aggressive cobra or viper hiding in the lawn and trying to attack the ladies on the stage. Joke! It is merely an expression which describes “a treacherous deceitful person.” Just have a look into the Oxford English Dictionary.

The setting is idyllic. A run-down cottage, most probably in the outskirts of London, surrounded by a lush though neglected garden. There is an overgrown tennis court and an old well in front of the house. The sun is shining, the sky of the deepest blue imaginable. The home of the Chester family looks deserted. All of a sudden a woman appears on the scene. Anabel, Mr. Chester’s elder daughter, has just arrived from Australia, her home for the last thirty-five years. Being the heir of all the riches Mr. Chester has left, including cottage and garden, she has been called back to England. In spite of her heritage, the successful business woman from one of the big cities on the Fifth Continent looks quite unhappy. When Miriam, her younger sister, turns up and moans over her lost youth in her father’s “care” an old family conflict erupts. While Anabel still resents her father’s forcing her into an exhausting tennis training day after day over a couple of years, Miriam accuses the old man of abusing her during her childhood. Once she broke out and went to a disco he dragged her back home. The first impression of a perfect world proves entirely wrong. The play turns out to be a trip on a ghost train. But this is no means the end of the horror. The next intruder is on her way.

„Don’t be afraid, Anabel, it’s only a bird in the trees.“

Alice Moody, the former nurse of the deceased Mr. Chester, shocks the two sisters with her message that Miriam deliberately killed the old man by administering a deadly dose of his medicine to him. Her silence is worth the gigantic sum of 100.000 pounds. Is she trying to take revenge for having recently been sacked by Miriam? Alice makes it very clear: “If you do not pay me the 100.000 pounds, I’ll have to report to the police right away.” She even produces a letter by her former employer in which Mr. Chester claims that Miriam intended to kill him. Anabel and Miriam are under shock. They do not have that much money to silence Alice. Really, the best way to get rid of that greedy woman is to “neutralise” her. In both sisters’ opinion, this would be the most elegant way to solve the problem. Since it is not our intention to spoil your appetite for the rest of this thrilling play, we are stopping here and leave it to you to find out who in the end turns out to be the snake in the grass. Or are there several reptiles in the garden? Knowing the author and his tricks you can never be sure…

What a play! No wonder that the press reviews are full of praise. While The Sunday Times writes: “A creepily, scarily, eerily enjoyable evening”, “Plays International” comment: “Alan Ayckbourn feels the urge to make people jump.” We fully agree.

„Sorry, Miriam. You really had a bad time with father.“

“Snake in Grass” is Alan Ayckbourn’s masterpiece combining thrilling and humorous elements in a remarkably balanced way. There are mysterious things going on in the backyard, the twitter of a bird hidden in the leaves of a big tree calling a name, and a chair on the porch rocking to and fro. There is also “gaslighting” in the air. What’s more: Alice the nurse is back from the dead, dirty from head to toe, but alive and in high spirits. What the hell is going on in Mr. Chester’s garden? The last act is shocking and will paralyse you with sheer horror. Don’t ask us why. Our lips are sealed. Just buy a ticket and enjoy the thrill while sitting comfortably in the theatre.

Thumbs up for three superb actrices: Debbie Radcliffe as ladylike Anabel, Jan Hirst playing a self conscious Miriam and Joanne Hidon in the role of scheming Alice Moody who is speaking a Yorkshire accent so thick that you could cut it with a knife. Hilarious!
Many thanks to Robert Rumpf who directed the play.

Last but not least a few words about Alan Ayckbourn. He was born in London in 1939 and has been writing and directing for the theatre for over 60 years. Being an extremely prolific author he has written a good many comedies which have become box office successes all over the world. Just think of comedies such as “Relatively Speaking,” Season’s Greetings” and “Communicating Doors,” to mention only three of Ackbourn’s highly amusing plays.

Final performance of “Snake in the Grass” on October 31, 2020

Tickets under phone number 040 – 227 70 89, or online under www.englishtheatre.de

Next premiere: “Shirley Valentine” by Willy Russell on November 12, 2020

Attention: Due to the corona pandemic, you are requested to wear a mask covering your mouth and nose during your stay in the theatre.

(Photos: Stefan Kock)

Author: Uta Buhr

Ehrenpräsidentin Die Auswärtige Presse e.V., freie Journalistin, Reise, Wellness, Kultur (Theater, Ausstellungen)