Review: Snowbound

By John Nathan, March 20, 2008

Trafalgar Studios 2, London SW1

Plays about siblings tend to focus on rivalry. But Ciaran McConville’s is more about love. Since his mother died, rough diamond Tom (Sam Hazeldine) has sacrificed his desire to see the world in order to look after his disabled younger brother Alex (Karl Davis).

This allows their spoilt sister Sally (Sarah Beck Mather) to live life to the full at Oxford University and go on to get even more fulfilment at the BBC.

It is never explained what Alex’s problem is. But he is fearful of being alone, prone to fits, and regularly sees visions of his dead mother. Perhaps he is autistic. But after the death of Tom’s fiancé Mary (Katherine Manners) the roles of the brothers swap. Tom now becomes the vulnerable one and Alex is the carer. By then, Sally is busy exploiting Alex’s talent for interviewing people on the nature of love by turning the videoed results into TV documentaries. We see some of the interviews projected on to a wall covered with price-tagged family photographs.

When Alex returns to help Tom, the disabled brother has been off stage for a good while and so glowing are the reports of his progress I half expected him to return as Noel Coward.

For most of this I sat through Samantha Potter’s production no more than mildly interested and occasionally cringing at the jokey, small-talk dialogue with which McConville infects most of his scenes. It is the sound of people talking without actually saying anything. It is the kind of dialogue that has been known to make listeners eat their fists.

But then, in the third act, something happens. The cosy marriage of the doctor (Patrick Brennan) who failed to save Tom’s mother has disintegrated into a vortex of neglect and guilt. And in one of the most satisfyingly vicious speeches I have heard in a long time, Mary’s mother (Linda Broughton) turns on smug Sally. And best of all, Hazeldine’s brooding portrayal becomes a deeply affecting performance when toughnut Tom finally cracks while remembering the childhood discovery of his mother’s body. It was almost too little, too late.

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    Last updated: 10:50am, May 20 2008