Snake In The Grass (2011)This article was written by Alan Ayckbourn for the programme for the introduction to Alan Ayckbourn: Plays 5.
In 1994, I wrote Haunting Julia which I had originally intended to be performed as an end-stage production to christen our company’s eagerly awaited, soon to open, ‘second’ auditorium of our new Scarborough home, the 160 seat McCarthy Theatre. In the event, building schedules being what they are, the move was delayed and the production was performed in the round in our old building but that’s another chapter.
Haunting Julia was unusual for me in two other ways. First, it was a ghost story and secondly it had an all male cast.
Ghost stories, especially theatrical ones, had always fascinated me ever since seeing as a child (far too young!) a stage adaptation of the W.W. Jacobs classic short story, The Monkey’s Paw. It gave me sleepless nights for months. My interest in the genre of ‘small-scale frighteners’ had recently been rekindled following my Associate Director, Robin Herford’s terrifying studio production of Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black in an ingenious stage adaptation by the late Stephen Mallatratt.
Eight years later, in 2002, now securely installed in the splendid new Stephen Joseph Theatre, I resolved to set right the casting imbalance by writing a piece to complement Haunting Julia for three women. Finances being somewhat limited (but then whenever have they not been in theatre?), the play needed to occupy our larger Round auditorium. It also needed to utilise a previously existing set, in this case the production of Joking Apart, which was in rep at the time. It also, rather cheekily, even took its title from a line in Joking Apart, Snake in the Grass. Three women in a garden then, with a glimpse of a tennis court. I based it loosely on the H.G. Clouzot classic movie, Les Diaboliques, which wasn’t set in a garden with three women, but a boys’ private school and featured two women and a man and several others beside.
In the event as soon as I started writing Snake in the Grass, the ‘ghostly’ subject matter was soon overtaken with other darker, deeper lying themes, like the lasting damaging effects left on two sisters by previous parental and marital abuse. As with Haunting Julia, the troubled tormented child genius of misguided, over protective parents, the haunting shades in Snake In The Grass grew from all too solid human origins.
The plays are grey pathways, occasionally illuminated by comedy but whose light ultimately only serves to lead to darker places.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn. Please do not reproduce without the permission of the copyright holder.