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Review: Snowflake

Review: Snowflake

Review: Snowflake cover photo on Stagedoor
Mike Bartlett can be pretty down on the baby boomers.

In Love, Love, Love, which will be revived at the Lyric Hammersmith next year, he charts 40 years in the lives of a feckless couple who inflict untold damage upon the next generation. That play, written in the wake of the 2008 financial crash, highlights issues of intergenerational financial inequality and entitlement.

Snowflake (Kiln) might be seen as a companion piece: but one that zooms in on the emotional, cultural and political distance between old and young and the generational betrayals of the ballot box. The title is double edged, speaking both at the term of abuse hurled at young people for being self-obsessed and fragile and the snowfall that everyone looks for at Christmas and whose first flakes often feel like a redemption.

Elliot Levey as Andy in Snowflake. Photos by Manuel Harlan.

It’s Christmas Eve and Andy, wearing his Christmas pudding jumper, is sitting alone and forlorn in an Oxfordshire church hall (lovely detailed design by Jeremy Herbert) under a banner that says “Welcome Home”. His wife has been dead for six years and he is awaiting his daughter, Maya. Only he hasn’t seen or spoken to her for three years, and he’s not entirely confident that she is coming. Andy works in a museum, and he’s a bit stuck in the past himself, still full of nostalgia for the 1982 Terry and June Christmas special. He can’t imagine what he’s done to offend so Maya that she left home soon after the Brexit vote, but somebody is about to walk through the door and put him straight.

Bartlett’s play is oddly structured, beginning with a long monologue from Andy before breaking for a disastrously placed interval that breaks the momentum. The meat of the piece is in the exchanges between Natalie, a young woman who claims she has simply popped by to pick up some plates but who sets about challenging Andy’s cosy world view and nostalgia for the past like a demolition expert faced with a creaky unstable building. He tries to patronise her; young, sparky and passionate, she stands her ground. The belated arrival of Maya adds some emotional meat as the reasons for her departure from home are revealed and the damage that Andy has unthinkingly inflicted on his daughter becomes apparent.

Elliot Levey and Ellen Robertson as Maya.

For a drama that celebrates the need to really listen there is an awful lot of talking, but as ever Bartlett is enormously even-handed in his portrayal of youth and age. Fine performances from Elliot Levey as Andy, Amber James as Natalie and Ellen Robertson as Maya ensure that balance is maintained, audience sympathies carefully calibrated, jokes enjoyed. It would be the most frozen of hearts that did not eventually melt in this family drama which understands that for the world to keep turning the next generation must challenge the one that came before.

But even the ending doesn’t feel quite earned, and despite the play’s timely arrival in London in the week after an election that further exposed the fissures between young and old, it’s desire to deliver some Christmas cheer lessens its impact. It’s good to see a Christmas play for adults tackling a potentially explosive subject, and one that in many families may be played out over the turkey on Christmas Day, but it is an evening of gentle sprinkles rather than the invigorating blizzard it might have been.

Snowflake runs at the Kiln Theatre until Sat 25 Jan.

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Written by

Lyn Gardner

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