Snake In The Grass: Quotes by Alan Ayckbourn"Snake in the Grass is a ghost story but it's actually a very dark subject, also about women who have been abused, one by her parents and one by her husband. It isn't a comedy but it is, well it has comedy in it."
(durham21.co.uk, 25 January 2002)
"On one level it's a standard Roger Corman* horror flick. I wanted to write a horror play that starts in a lovely garden in bright sunlight. As nightfall creeps in, the revelations get darker and darker. It's got, hopefully, some interesting characters and some fun in it too. I like thrillers. I once wrote a thing called Haunting Julia, which was a three-man play. I'm known to be very fair-handed with my actors and over the years I've tried to write as many parts for the girls as the boys. So this one is a three-women play. People are snooty about them [thrillers], even though Shakespeare wrote the odd horror play. It's great fun making people jump out of their seats. But I suppose in the end it's simply because thrillers, like farces, are so difficult to write. There are great ones such as Wait Until Dark, but you don't get a lot of them. The ones that do work don't throw character and all credibility out of the window. You need to be old to write them because you need to have well-honed narrative skills."
(The Times, 21 May 2002)
"It's been seen as a companion piece [to Haunting Julia], as it has only the three women. After doing a thriller for three men, people said, 'Oh, you owe women one now', so being a fair man with my company of actors, I've written this one for three women....
"I've always wanted to do a thriller that starts in sunlight in a garden, and slowly the darkness comes in as the sun sets. But there's not a clap of thunder or any lighting in this play as it's more a study of women, and essentially the sisters....
"The idea is to lead them [the audience] in gently and then gradually terrify them. Like a farce, it requires a certain collaboration with the audience: just as you have to believe a man in a cupboard with his trousers down is desperate, so you have to believe there's a reason for the sisters to be frightened - and I think the theatre-in-the-round setting is very good for those prickles on the neck! Like comedy, it's about timing. I always use the analogy, when talking to the actors, that they should remember the scary movie they saw twice. You know when you see it for the second time that nothing happens at a certain point but when you first see it, you wonder what might happen next. It's that combination of what might happen and what does happen, and then you have to have a leavening humour on top of that....
"The thing about open-air sets is that they're infinite rather than finite; and in the garden you behave differently, you sit on the ground, you are more informal. In a sitting room, you don't normally wander to the other side, unless a play has been badly directed, so I love the outdoors and the freer structure it allows for writing. Inside, there has to be a reason for someone to come into a room or leave it; in a garden they can just wander off by saying 'Oh there's a rhododendron'. In this play, we 'extend' the garden beyond the audience, so that whatever is out there could be behind them or beyond them, and there's no limit to the set. The audience will be peering through the gardens, so it'll be like a peep show, with the actors coming from behind them and being in the midst of them, so the audience will feel part of what's going on. I've always thought I'd like to do something like that. I remember that in The Haunting, as with all the best horror movies, you never see the ghost but it's always on your mind. That's the effect I want."
(Yorkshire Evening Press, 31 May 2002)
"On the one level it can be taken as piece of 'spook theatre'. But underneath it's actually a story about abuse in childhood. It's actually quite a dark theme. It's what makes a victim, and how that can have incredible repercussions... but I didn't want to write a play about abuse, full stop. That would have put off the very audience that I hoped would see it. I'm always looking for other levels to add, and it seemed to me that I could wrap it up as a thriller."
(Artscene, July 2002)
"[Regarding the conclusion of the play and what Annabel sees] She's left with her own ghosts, I think. On a purely symbolic level, she's going to have to live with her father for the rest of her life."
(Artscene, July 2002)
"Snake in the Grass is a companion piece, and a very dark one too, to Haunting Julia. It's a three-woman play which is interesting as I hadn't written that format before. It's about the ghosts we carry with us all our lives but looked at rather differently. It's about what happens to us as children and how we grow up; in this case, two women who were severely traumatised by an abusive father who physically and sexually abused them, and what it's done to their lives. There is a great deal of coverage at the moment, certainly in this country, about child abuse, and the advantage taken of children, particularly on the internet. It's too distressing a subject for me to tackle, absolutely, using young children on stage. But I was interested to explore what the lasting effect would be on two women of 40-plus who had lived through it and yet still, in a sense, were damaged by the experience. It's another sort of haunting, another sort of ghost. My ghost plays are less about things in cupboards that jump out at you, than things in our heads that affect us at night, in the darkness.
"The other thing about Snake in the Grass, is that it's set in a garden in sunshine. I'd always wanted to write a ghost story in sunlight as opposed to dark old houses with wind and thunder, in the middle of the night when all the lights have gone out. Let's do it in the sunshine and tell a story where the sun slowly sinks and it slowly gets darker and the shadows slowly creep in as the play progresses and darkens. It interested me to write that, and it was interesting to work exclusively on an all-woman play which I had wanted to do for some time."
(Personal correspondence, 2003)
"One aspect of what it's about is also raised by Annabel: "How guilty is the victim of the piece?" There's a tendency in all, certainly in marital cases, for the victim to blame herself for the abuse that the husband perpetrates upon them. It's something that, I think, emotionally, you have to tackle. It's ironic that the victim can feel more guilty than the abuser. Similarly, there is in all that, the other thing, which is spoken by Miriam, that it's the people we love - unless we are seriously dysfunctional as human beings, like serial rapists or something - that we hurt. She says it quite succinctly, we don't go around slapping strangers in the street or indeed verbally abusing them, but we do find ourselves abusing our children, our lovers, our wives, our husbands. And it's because there is something broken down in the communication. It is quite a serious question."
(Extract from Albert-Reiner Glaap's A Guided Tour Through Ayckbourn Country)
* Roger Corman was a famed director of cheap but effective horror and science-fiction movies.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn