Snake In The Grass: BackgroundSnake In The Grass marked the second time Alan Ayckbourn had written a supernatural themed play and is very much a companion piece to Haunting Julia, which was first produced in 1994.
Whereas Haunting Julia was Alan’s first ‘male only’ play with a cast of three men; Snake In The Grass features a cast of just three women. It can also be said to share a similar theme of fathers haunting their daughters. In Haunting Julia, it is Julia’s father Joe who is haunting his dead daughter Julia. In Snake In The Grass, the sisters Miriam and Annabel are haunted by their dead father, both in memory and possibly in a supernatural sense of the term.
Snake In The Grass is not as overtly supernatural though as Haunting Julia, but it is a much darker play. It is essentially a thriller with black humour, but underneath this is a story about domestic violence with both sisters the victims of parental abuse - both mental and physical. Annabel has been physically abused by her husband and tormented as a girl by her father. The play implies Miriam has been sexually abused by her father and this is the probable cause of her irrational behaviour in the piece. Of course, these topics are not allowed to overwhelm the play and are subtly hinted at, offering a dark undercurrent to the play which becomes more obvious once the play is considered.
The play also throws up the question of victim’s guilt: Annabel articulates the beliefs that we only truly hurt the people we love and that, arguably, the reason for someone we love hurting us may be our own fault and that abusive love is better than no love. Contentious as these issues are, they illustrate Alan is still more than willing to tackle controversial and provocative contemporary issues four decades after he began writing. It also highlights Alan exploring a familiar theme, the lack of communication between people, but in a disturbing and some might say taboo manner. Snake In The Grass is also undoubtedly inspired by Alan's love of film with a particular influence in this play being the 1955 French film, Les Diaboliques.
Although both Snake In The Grass and Haunting Julia are both considered supernatural stories, at their hearts they are less about the immaterial, and more the material. They consider the often terrible things we do to those we love, be it by not being able to cope with or understanding our children in Haunting Julia or the altogether more disturbing concept of abusing them in Snake In The Grass.
Snake In The Grass opened at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, in 2002 with a strong cast of Fiona Mollison, Susie Blake and Rachel Atkins. The play generally received positive reviews and ran in repertory with Alan’s classic comedy Joking Apart; both plays shared the same set (and Snake In The Grass's title was inspired by a line from Joking Apart). Both plays then went on a successful regional tour. The play has since been published by Samuel French in 2004 and Faber in 2011 (both of which feature a printing error, the correction for which can be found on the Publication Corrections page) and released for both professional and amateur performance. The play has proved especially popular on the amateur circuit and in recent years has also proved to be popular internationally with productions of the play across the globe.
A chance to see Snake In The Grass and Haunting Julia together was offered in summer 2008 for Alan Ayckbourn's final summer season as Artistic Director of the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, when they were presented alongside a new supernatural drama Life And Beth. Alan Ayckbourn again directed the 2008 revival of the play which received strong reviews.
The professional London premiere of Snake In The Grass did not take place until 14 February 2011, when it was staged at The Print Room with a well-received production directed by Lucy Bailey and starring Susan Wooldridge, Sarah Woodward and Mossie Smith.
Note: Snake In The Grass is occasionally inaccurately referred to as part of the Things That Go Bump trilogy; Alan Ayckbourn dos not consider the plays to be a trilogy amd has never refered to them as the Things That Go Bump trilogy. See Behind The Scenes for further details.
Copyright: Simon Murgatroyd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.