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Snowflake: Let it snow!

by | Dec 11, 2021 | Review | 0 comments

There’s a whodunnit aspect to Snowflake: Andy wonders about the significance of Natalie’s tattoo. (Photo of Natasha Burnett and Aaron Craven by Shimon Karmel)

It always amazes me when a show manages to save itself in Act 2. This production of Snowflake does that — splendidly.

In playwright Mike Bartlett’s Snowflake, the first act is a monologue delivered by a guy named Andy. As he waits in a church hall in his hometown of Oxfordshire, England on Christmas Eve, Andy has an imaginary conversation with his estranged daughter Maya, who left home suddenly after the death of her mom. Andy hasn’t heard from Maya in three years and he’s desperately hoping she’ll show up. (He believes he’s managed to leave a message for her requesting a meeting.)

But Andy spends most of Act 2 with a young woman named Natalie, who’s there to collect crockery for another event. She’s Black, Andy’s white, and one of the first questions out of Natalie’s mouth is, “So how racist are you, then?”

I wasn’t much interested in Act 1, largely, I suspect, because Aaron Craven is miscast as Andy. For Act 1 to work, it’s got to be fueled by our empathy for Andy. But Craven’s casting creates barriers: he’s too young for the role and Andy’s accent sits uncomfortably on his tongue. So we’re left watching Craven trying so hard to fill the gaps between himself and Andy that sometimes he ends up commenting on the character rather than inhabiting it. You can see the rivets in his performance: “Oh, isn’t that interesting? He’s leaning forward on the balls of his feet to emphasize the comedy of that moment.”

Craven is skilled. He’s just miscast.

Act 1 does have some funny lines — having raced to a café hoping to meet Natalie, Andy says, “You hardly ever see adults run these days, except when there’s terrorists”— but that’s not enough.

Then, in Act 2, when we get to know Natasha Burnett’s Natalie, the sun comes out. Burnett’s performance is as natural, as vital and unforced as breathing. I’ve never seen her work before, but I hope we’re soon going to be seeing her on stages all over Vancouver.  Her London accent sounds as authentic as can be, to my ear at least, and, as Burnett’s Natalie challenges the conservative Andy on racism, sexism, and Brexit, she’s forceful, but she’s always listening. She’s compassionate and alive to the moment, which makes her extremely attractive.

Thematically, it becomes apparent that Snowflake is all about listening, which, in our current political moment, is getting increasingly hard to do. I’m living that difficulty: in defending the use of they/them pronouns recently, I bit the head off an ally — because their allyship wasn’t perfect in my view in that moment, but also because of residual anger and because the state of the world has left me with so little resilience.

Snowflake isn’t simplistic. It isn’t just saying, “Let’s be nice.” It’s about telling those who benefit from dominant cultural narratives — including cis white guys like Andy and me — to shut the fuck up and listen for a change. But it’s also about allowing some compassion for potential allies, including cis white guys like Andy and me — who are trying to participate in a more open conversation.

In Snowflake’s arguments, I found it easy to side with Natalie — when she says that, if you grow up white in a white racist society, you’re bound to absorb some of that racism, for instance. But Andy also gets his licks in, when he points out, for example, that, in some circles, identity politics have displaced class analysis.

Because I’m struggling with positionality, because I think so many of us are, I found watching Snowflake cathartic and, even though its resolution runs the risk of being sentimental, I fell for it — and wept.

Anni Ramsay, who plays a third character, who shows up to complicate things, delivers a grounded passionate performance. The simple, then startling set is by David Roberts.

Snowflake: you’re not going to find a smarter — or more necessary — holiday entertainment.

SNOWFLAKE by Mike Bartlett. Directed by Jennifer Copping. Presented by Mitch and Murray Productions at the Redgate Revue Stage on Friday, December 10. Continues until December 23. Tickets


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