While theatre can be home to some epic, large-scale productions where it’s often easy to miss detail, it is also home to more intimate shows where detail is absolutely everything. This is the case with The Flanagan Collective and Joanne Hartstone’s latest offering at Summerhall: Snakes and Giants, written by Alexander Wright and directed by Hannah Davies.
Snakes and Giants revolves around the story of one woman, portrayed by Holly Beasley-Garrigan, whose long-term relationship has recently crumbled. She recounts her story to us through physical storytelling and spoken word, which her fellow performer Veronica Hare often assists in, and recounts a story about an old woman to form the other half of the intermingling narrative.
In its short running time of just under an hour, Snakes and Giants presents you with a lot to think about. It’s unique in that it appears to be driven more by atmosphere and character than narrative, which some audience members may find slightly jarring. I myself experienced this at points, with the fusion of spoken word, poetry and music often becoming slightly confusing.
But the counterpoint to this confusion is Davies’ masterful direction. Wright’s text is complex and full of powerful imagery that, upon reflection, sounds like it would be quite difficult to stage. Davies sensitively picks these images apart, and helps to move towards a highly visual production for the two performers to inhabit. Recurring motifs, including the arranging and drinking of glasses of red wine and the construction/dismantling of the set create a pleasant uniform feel in the piece.
The two performers also demonstrate graceful, eloquent storytelling throughout the piece. They establish a clear relationship between themselves and the audience, and we sit and listen quietly as they methodically unveil the information about their respective characters.
It feels as if Snakes and Giants almost enjoys deliberately confusing you with its layered imagery and accumulation of various atmospheres. By the time you come out of Summerhall’s Demonstration Room space, you’re left feeling ready to really reflect on the hour you’ve just been a part of. It’s left to you to interpret Wright’s text and take away from it what you like, although you won’t be able to take away everything.
Admittedly, there are things about this production that I’m not entirely sure I understood or connected with. But everything about Snakes and Giants feels measured and deliberate, and its mystique appears to be the master puppeteer in what could have been a plotless bundle. Snakes and Giants won’t quite be to everyone’s taste, but it makes for an enjoyable evening of layered storytelling from a company that never stops surprising.
Snakes and Giants is playing at Summerhall until August 27.