Reviewed by Malcolm Calder
Michael Lawrence (Andy) and Clementine Mills (Maya) Image Tatania Harper
By Mike Bartlett
Directed by Paul Gittens
A Plumb Theatre Production
Pitt Street Theatre
Until December 11
By Malcolm Calder
24 November 2022
What an enjoyable little play. And perfectly timed for Christmas too.
Mike Bartlett, perhaps best known for winning three Oliviers, has come up with something quite delightful that has plenty for the pondering classes to consume. And Plumb Productions have placed it perfectly in the pre-Christmas slot at the Pitt Street theatre.
Bartlett’s Snowflake has a generational divide, a language divide, a social divide, a political divide and a whole lot of other divides. No spoilers here but it ultimately ends up not being about division at all.
Michael Lawrence opens the first Act with a meandering monologue as Andy, a rumpled and slightly disheveled, 50-ish, white-male widower. He is questioning and over-thinking a three-year estrangement from 21-y-o daughter Maya, after a longstanding family disagreement. Despite his efforts to understand the estrangement, the issue of blame lurks somewhere in his head. Could have been his fault, could have been hers. Yes, a lot hers. Well maybe just a tiny bit hers. She is still pretty young after all. But he doesn’t really understand himself and understands Maya even less. Ergo, the blame issue becomes a generational one. That is simpler. Isn’t it? So, perhaps irrationally, he has convinced himself that Maya will return for Christmas, and he is making every effort he knows to ensure a welcoming and festive reunion. He has gone out and hired a rather nondescript hall and made a passing effort to decorate it appropriately with Christmas lights that metaphorically fail to initially light. What he is aiming for is the restoration of a familial pater-et-fillette unit that never really happened 6 years ago when the wife/mother passed away after a sudden illness. But, of course, it’s not that simple.
Layla Pitt (Natalie) Image Tatania Harper
Rather unexpectedly, a hip young woman, Natalie (Layla Pitt), who may or may not have also booked the hall, arrives to pack up some crockery. She is intelligent, smart and pretty articulate. Despite his better intentions, an initially reticent Andy reveals why he is there. After some preliminary sparring, so does Natalie – eventually. And she is not there just to pack crockery
Unfortunately, Andy is irretrievably locked into the past, while Natalie is not. Just as he is a dithering middle aged white male who works in a museum and takes a lot of things for granted, she is an onto it, well-educated and socially aware darker skinned professional woman. She is of a totally different generation with a comprehensively different worldview. Even that is flawed to some extent and some of her viewpoints, while different, carry their own undercurrent of self-righteousness.
It’s not long, however, before things speed up and she becomes the catalyst for an Act 2 discussion (her word) or argument (his word) that challenges their respective values, attitudes and politics on everything from education to racial stereotyping, from lifestyle to dress sense, and Brexit plays a big part too. But we’re a mature mob in Tamaki Makaurau in 2022 and we can put that context to one side and simply regard it as wallpaper or context. Far more importantly, Snowflake fairly bristles with the drama and tension that now erupts between the two.
But that is only a curtain-raiser to the eventual arrival of daughter Maya in Act 3 and the drama ratchets up even further. Maya (Clementine Mills) quickly confirms herself as the real contrapuntal immoveable object to Andy, and her presence confirms the part Natalie plays as a catalyst between them, ultimately agreeing, disagreeing, supporting, opposing, listening and encouraging.
I could go on to describe where the finale of Act 3 goes, but that would be a spoiler alert. Suffice say it’s all about two opposing viewpoints, and their catalyst that leads to eventual redemption.
Michael Lawrence gives a bravura performance as Andy – a remarkably well-written character. He is real. I know someone just like him. And so is Layla Pitt – I know someone just like her too. Both give simply outstanding performances. It is always difficult coming on towards the end in a critical and briefer role, but Clementine Mills’ Maya sustains the tension director Paul Gittens has crafted. Ultimately the drama and that tension build wonderfully in Snowflake. It is to be admired, respected and applauded.
Yes, it is an English drama and, yes, it is a tad dated at 4 years old, but the universality of its larger issues stand easily in Aotearoa in 2022. As a play, Snowflake it is structurally rife with theatrical contrivances you could drive a bus through at times. But this is theatre after all, and Snowflake asks its audience to suspend any disbelief and simply wallow in the dialogue and let the drama shine through. It does.
When the Old Fire Station Theatre at Oxford commissioned this play from Mike Bartlett, their single stipulation was that it have an ending appropriate to Christmas. They got it. This cast and its director deliver it.
Clementine Mills (Maya) Image Tatania Harper