Snowflake – Plumb Theatre (Pitt Street Theatre)

Snowflake had its New Zealand premiere at Auckland Pitt Street Theatre. We send Theatre Peter off to check it out.

We walked to the small Pitt Street Theatre to see Snowflake having just heard the sad news of Wilko Johnson’s death. His own much-sung words could have formed the motif for the night: “I may be right, I may be wrong, I bet you’re gonna miss me when I’m gone.”

This story of generational conflict and misunderstandings could almost be bestowed with the alternative title at of ‘Waiting For Maya.’ But this play has none of the bitterness of Beckett’s Godot. Nor the fatalism.

You may know the play’s author Mike Bartlett as the screenwriter for award-winning telly show Dr Foster, a loose adaptation of Euripedes’ Medaea. His 2018 play Snowflake is brought to Auckland by the small but hard-working Plumb Theatre Company, directed by the well-known and highly-respected Paul Gittins. He has produced a well-crafted, thought-provoking evening examining generational conflict through the implosion of one small family.

Plumb Theatre operates out of Pitt Street’s Methodist Church Hall – the kitchen features heavily in every production, almost as a character and – in this play – as a plot device. Cunningly in this play, ‘Snowflake,’ the church hall is asked to play itself. Or, perhaps, a sadder version of itself, brightened by the adroitly malfunctioning Christmas lights our main character, Andy (played by Michael Lawrence, who perfectly inhabits his role of the “museum piece” he is accused of being) hopes will help plead his case.

We are welcomed to the hall by strains of ‘Jingle Bell Rock,’ which is a tad frightening, especially in November. It got worse. Think Wham! (“Last Christmas, I gave her my heart”!) These cheesy Christmas nuggets are not chosen accidentally, it transpires.

If you can get through that, and the slowly unwinding self-pitying monologue of the middle-aged Andy, with which it all eventually begins, we get to the heart of the piece.

The play is Christmas-related, be warned, but this is much more than just a traditional ‘family conflict’ around the Christmas dinner. In three Acts separated by flashes of insight, we are asked to decide whether a generational divide necessitates conflict — and more, do todays’ many reasons for generational and cultural divides demand it? Does the toxicity of modern political discourse really need to pollute everything, even relationships with those we love?

The double meaning of the title ‘Snowflake’ sets up the confrontation that invites us all to question our (perhaps) unthinking positions. And also (perhaps) about the importance of listening to those we love. As director Gittins says, ‘Snowflake is “about everything that’s going on in the world at the moment; polarisation, generational divide, gender, identity, racism, the climate. It’s about all of those things, but it is very cleverly packaged up in a story about a father.” And a daughter. And how generations so often talk past each other, but need not.

Lawrence succeeds admirably as Andy, the not-unsympathetic relic from another time. He is able supported by Layla Pitt, playing the well-balanced and provocative antagonist Natalie; and by Clementine Mills playing the wounded and almost ‘digital’ Maya, seeming emotionally always either on or off.  Together, Mills and Pitt make the argument that the generations inheriting the planet need to be heard. But will they?

In this way, as audience members discussed last night on their way out, the simple family story says much more than you might expect.

Theatre Peter

‘Snowflake’ is on at Pitt Street Theatre until December 11. Catch it while you can!