A Hundred Words for Snow
Reviewed – 7th March 2019
“heaps of honesty and bone-dry comedy”
I feel a little panic entering a theatre for a one-person play to find a seemingly basic set design. My natural inclination is to want as much distraction from the solitariness of the person on stage as possible – multiple pieces of furniture to move around on, lots of little props to play with, all so we can avoid eye contact and the general intensity that comes from silently praying that this one person will remember their seventy five minute monologue. In this case, the set is a curved white wall with various white blocks, all overlaid by a partial map, and that’s all. Not much of a give-away and certainly not much in the way of distraction.
But as it transpires, there’s no need. Fifteen-year old Rory (Gemma Barnett) saunters on stage and begins talking so casually, she might have been mid-conversation with an old friend. She starts at the end – in a helicopter flying over the North Pole with her dad’s ashes and her mum sobbing – and then continues on to the beginning – a completely commonplace death (a hit-and-run) of a nice and outwardly ordinary Geography teacher, who also happens to be Rory’s dad. Thereafter unfolds the journey from funeral to helicopter.
There is a whole lot of room in this plotline for saccharine catharsis and maudlin sentiment, but Tatty Hennessy’s writing is so perfectly British, deftly avoiding the more obvious route of overly stated loss with heaps of honesty and bone-dry comedy. Lucy Jane Atkinson’s direction sees Barnett deliver the entire play with impossible ease. She repeatedly teeters on the edge of mourning relief and repeatedly pulls back, making the few moments of emotional exposure all the more poignant. The script is also sneakily quite educational; I’ve now got a whole bank of fun facts about the north pole- my favourite involves a chisel made of poo.
Christianna Mason’s design is clean and simple – the camouflaged blocks house the few props used, as well as doubling as beds and chairs when required. But that’s all. And in fact, any more would have felt superfluous and distracting. The sound (Mark Sutcliffe) and lighting (Lucy Adams) follow suit, appearing sparingly and to great effect.
I feel it requires a mention that A Hundred Words for Snow is a story about an adventurous teenage girl, produced by a near-entirely female cast and crew, which is rare on both counts. And if this play is anything to go by, it should happen all the time because it appears to lead to roaring success.
Reviewed by Miriam Sallon
Photography by Nick Rutter
A Hundred Words for Snow
Trafalgar Studios until March 30th
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: