CUT SNAKE is loads of fun. Devised by Dan Giovannoni, Amelia Evans and Paige Rattray, in collaboration with the actors, this tale of time travel, fate and friendship is a light-speed mix of clowning, cabaret and acrobatics. And its energy is irresistible.
When Jumper (Kevin Kiernan-Molloy) is killed in a bus crash, his friends Kiki Coriander (Catherine Davies) and Bob (Julia Billington) try to make sense of what’s happened. What follows is a surreal trip through each of the friend’s stories – Contiki tours, fairy visions, treks up Mount Kilimanjaro, and encounters with gypsies, Jesus and John Lennon. There’s also a talking snake (a bright yellow sock-puppet) to spice things up, and a game of who can come up with the biggest question in the universe (in the end it’s a close call between ‘Who would win a fight between a hippo and a horse?’ and ‘Does time travel exist?’).
Director Paige Rattray gets absolute commitment from her actors here. The physical comedy is sharp (when characters wrestle with their feelings, they literally wrestle with their feelings) and there’s a feistiness to the acting that gives the whole thing an unstoppable momentum. It’s a fifty-minute play, but it seems much, much shorter.
Kiernan-Molloy has the pick of the roles – morphing from Jumper to Lady Godiva, Jesus to John Lennon – and he doesn’t waste any opportunity. He’s clearly enjoying himself, and the audience is in the palm of his hand all the way.
Catherine Davies brings a bit of zing to the occasionally monotonous Kiki, and there’s a playful menace in her realisation of the school teacher, Mrs Broccolini. Too often though, she’s required to do little more than position herself at the back of the stage and make interesting shapes with her body.
Julia Billington – playing Bob, the gypsies, and Trix the snake – has fewer opportunities to play-up to the audience. While she brings a quiet zest to the physical action, she struggles to embody the older Bob. Even so, she generates some emotional heft in one of CUT SNAKE’s more restrained moments – Bob’s final speech – something sorely lacking in the rest of the play.
The lighting and set – a series of sheets pegged together to make an amphitheatre, giving the whole thing a rough-hewn, homemade effect – are serviceable, though a little more effort might have gone into differentiating the various places where the action occurs – the fishing wharf, the Garden of Eden, the second world war battlefield.
If there’s a problem with CUT SNAKE it’s that key moments of what little plot there is tend to get lost in all the fun and games. The narration is often garbled, monologues seem flat, and essential exchanges – most notably Kiki and Bob discussing the significance of a shooting star – aren’t given the weight they demand.
Rattray never manages to find the drama in the play’s quieter moments, allowing the actors to scramble through lines on their way towards the next rush of colour and movement. This has the effect of throwing the whole thing out of balance, and the charming heart of the play – Bob and Kiki looking for a lasting connection with the dead Jumper and using time-travel to achieve it – is lost.
CUT SNAKE is a joyous confection – a real crowd pleaser – but its emotional centre is underplayed. What’s left is something that, for all its verve, seems a little too much like Theatresports on steroids.
Arthur Productions presents
by Dan Giovannoni, Amelia Evans and Paige Rattray
Directed by Paige Rattray
Venue: Theatre Works | 14 Acland St, St Kilda
Dates: 23 – 27 Feb 2015
Tickets: $30 – $26
Bookings: 03 9534 3388