Aptly titled, "Snakehead" weaves a cautionary tale of naivety and exploitation set against an original musical backdrop.
The Hope Theatre is one of Theatre Bee’s absolute favourite venues because of its intimate setting; the actors are never more than five feet away from any member of the audience. The close proximity between the performers and the audience fosters a unique kind of engagement, which was only amplified in Snakehead by the lead actress Sian Maxwell’s commandeering stage presence and eye contact with the audience.
Maxwell delivers an extraordinary performance, effortlessly juggling the evocative musical score with the emotional demands of her role, although the bee did struggle to see the relevance of some of the songs to the unfolding narrative. Part of the reason may have simply been the fact that the instrumental music was too loud to decipher the lyrics, but part of it was the lyrics themselves being somewhat unmemorable. However, the musical aspect of the current production indubitably adds a unique layer of emotion to the production that cannot be ignored.
Maxwell’s versatility shines through in her monologue, her gaze purposefully meeting those of audience members, drawing them in as active participants rather than passive observers. It is an intense connection, making it impossible to escape the raw emotions on display.
[Minor spoiler ahead] However, the plot is arguably the Achilles heel of "Snakehead". A tale of a provincial girl, seduced by a successful, older city man, it treads familiar, predictable territory. From the moment the man proposes to photograph her, the trajectory of the story is all but spelled out. The girl's unrequited love and the man's exploitative intentions are palpable from the start, stripping the plot of potential suspense or surprise. [Spoiler ends]
Despite the predictable storyline, the concluding scene stands as a testament to the play's power. The girl's damning indictment of a society that demonizes her and yet secretly relishes her fall from grace is a compelling moment of self-awareness. The assertion that society needs scapegoats like her to bear the brunt of its collective shame is a chilling but resonant thought, delivered with a force that resonates long after the curtain call.
In sum, Snakehead might not offer unexpected twists or turns, but its strength lies in the powerful delivery and emotional depth of the lead actress, Sian Maxwell, and the poignant societal critique embedded in its closing moments. Its predictability is its major downfall, which makes it a good, but not great, theatre experience. Despite its shortcomings, it is a production that pushes boundaries, daring its audience to confront uncomfortable truths hidden beneath societal veneers.
Watched June 2023 at The Hope Theatre, London