Following Simon McBurney’s hyped spectacular that was The Encounter, it is both exciting and slightly puzzling to find another play on the London scene that explores a true story of the encounter with an Amazonian tribe. Based on the memoir of Daniel Everett’s research amongst the Pirahã people, critically-acclaimed ensemble simple8 tackle the similar theme of what essentially makes us human. And with their unique style and sharp writing, it is one fascinating journey.
Dan is a linguist on a mission to bring Christianity and Jesus under the skin of a tribe who don’t even know the concept of counting. Shocked by the strange liberation of their lifestyle, Dan slowly discovers that not only is their culture different to ours, but their language challenges things beyond words – and he slowly finds himself the lost one, a missionary without faith.
Simple8 is known for creating inventive work in simple ways. With Don’t Sleep There Are Snakes, they take us deep into the Amazon and the search for what humanity is, without any means but tight and creative ensemble work. Objects transform beyond their potential and in a myriad of movement, storytelling and live soundscape, a world that seems almost too visually rich for us to recreate becomes very vivid before our eyes. The pace is fast and slick and as the pulse of the piece propels us forwards, the sharpness of the writing unfolds. Going against the convention of an encounter with a tribe and their obscure language, Sebastian Armesto and Dudley Hinton’s witty script gives the natives English. We see their intelligence, warmth and wit by understanding exactly what they’re saying, highlighting that we as missionaries for the Western lifestyle have just as much colour and humanity as them – or maybe even
The ensemble brings ease and spark to the piece and support Mark Arends’s Dan in his attempt to understand and influence his new surroundings. Arends passionately engages with his audience and brings us into what feels like a very personal memoir, a fight even for the acknowledgement of a new, better way of viewing life. The direction, split between Armesto, Hinton and Hannah Emanuel, is fluid and above all refreshingly dynamic. The structure of the piece in its entirety really taps into the delicacy of the memoir, the intelligence behind the writing and the immense questions it asks. At times the debate is being hammered home a little too hard, but as Dan asks whether our genetic flair for grammar is what really makes us human, the mind starts to race. And that’s what it’s all about.
Following shortly after The Encounter there must be a need for these questions to be asked now – a need for us to look elsewhere for inspiration when making work that really matters. Don’t Sleep There Are Snakes certainly does that.
Don’t Sleep There Are Snakes is playing at the Park Theatre until 23 April. For more information and tickets, see the Park Theatre website. Photo: Idil Sukan