‘Snowflakes’ review – Convoluted but captivating cancel culture dystopia calls out conclusivity


Two inept contract killers from a mysterious start-up take forever to carry out the job in hand in Snowflakes, to the extent that we just wish they’d get on with it and off the drugged up writer passed out on his hotel room bed – and that impatience seems to be what the play is calling us out on?

It so obviously wants to emulate the biting critique of the social media generation that is Black Mirror, with its copious amounts of violence, livestreams projected onto a screen downstage, and its setting in a world where people can vote on whether to exact torture on terrible people (yes, a literal trial by social media). It’s the warped take on cancel culture from “Hated In The Nation”, with the good cop/bad cop interrogation of a writer from The Pillowman.

Robert Boulton, who is also the playwright behind this production, plays a calculating and menacing sadist Marcus, desperate to exact control over both a spiralling and unpredictable scenario and new recruit Sarah (Louise Hoare). She’s naive and bubbly, yet refuses to be mansplained to by Marcus. The power play between Marcus and Sarah – two characters who both, individually, concede that they’re not sure if they’re qualified for the job at hand – is tense and intriguing when it becomes clear that Sarah is harbouring trepidation and a secret in the background. The only problem is that the issue at the centre of this particular working relationship concerns an incident involving Marcus and Centre Parcs, and it is every bit distracting in terms of the general ‘unconscious man in a room at risk of being murdered’ thing.

This is significant, because we as an audience aren’t afforded a lot of answers in the first act. We know the two contract killers are here to help “scratch an itch” and conduct a video interview with writer Tony Leith (Henry Davis), who denies any allegations of wrongdoing put against him. In amongst this is a rigorous pursuit by Sarah to ascertain the source of Marcus’ animosity towards her and whether he is ‘sexist’, and as such, the first half of Snowflakes is, well, flaky.

Dystopian thrillers are, of course, meant to keep some things under wraps so as to keep things bleak, but when the central narrative isn’t moving along fast enough and there are more questions than answers, there’s little incentivising us to come back after a 15-minute interval – besides wanting to know if Tony gets to go back to his wife and daughter or he gets his brains blown out.

All of this means we are given multiple monologues in the second act which finally give us a bit more background behind what is going on. The specific allegations faced by Tony are revealed, as is the idea of an audience watching a livestream and being able to vote on whether the writer lives based on a grovelling statement expressing his innocence. Structurally, it’s all rather lop-sided.

In trying to wrestle with the Centre Parcs subplot, Sarah’s rising confidence and the frustrating will he or won’t he around Tony’s fate, there isn’t a lot in Snowflakes which strikes me as distinctive. Add to this my earlier point about it being very similar to Black Mirror and The Pillowman, then besides three strong performances, there’s little about this commentary on social media’s cancel culture besides it simply being terrible and utterly soul-destroying. Unfortunately, that’s hardly a novel or ground-breaking point to make.

There is, though, one particular argument which is fairly convincing, albeit underdeveloped. As Tony becomes a lot more daring and challenging against his captors, he fumes that we now live in a society which doesn’t care about truth, but rather confirmation. It’s unsurprising if you’re at all familiar with the idea of so-called ‘post-truth’ politics, but it alludes to the fact that before Trump, Brexit and all other landmark political events which broke our collective, agreed reality, those two things would surely go hand-in-hand. Now, in an age of confirmation bias where everyone has their own interpretation of the truth, they are worryingly distinct.

If only Snowflakes sought to interrogate and satirise the ruinous rigidity of our present-day morality – both from an audience perspective, but also in terms of the two assassins who become clouded by the job they have to carry out. What’s not to say we could have had an individual who has committed misdemeanours – but otherwise redeemed himself – still be forced to plead for his life, in a world which is still so obsessed with a twisted understanding of justice and revenge?

Disappointingly, Boulton’s play (right up to the very end) instead seems to chastise the audience for assuming two contract killers would, shock horror, actually kill someone. This eerie and gritty production could have been a lot more provocative had it created a scenario in which we condemn a man to death, only because that becomes the only possible outcome we see before us, even though he’s done everything within his power to repent.

It could have called out society’s stubbornness, but instead appears to criticise us for applying logic to the narrative unfolding in front of us – and tragically, this flaw in the storytelling speaks to many elements of the play which mean it isn’t as robust as it could have been.

Snowflakes is now playing at Park Theatre until 6 May. A relaxed performance will take place on 27 April, with an audio described performance scheduled for 29 April.

Production Images: Jennifer Evans.

Disclaimer: I was invited to watch ‘Snowflakes’ for free in exchange for a review of the performance as a member of the press. I did not receive payment for this article and all opinions stated above are honest and my own.

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