Review: Snowflake (Kiln Theatre)

Mike Bartlett’s new play has its London premiere this Christmas

Amber James and Elliot Levey in Snowflake
Amber James and Elliot Levey in Snowflake
© Manuel Harlan

Tinsel, Brexit and a last minute snow effect: leave it to Mike Bartlett, he of TV's Doctor Foster and Albion, Cock and King Charles III on stage, to give us a Christmas show that feels simultaneously festive, caustic, refreshingly woke and authentically heartwarming. Snowflake is a lovely piece that celebrates the importance of tolerating other people's views while also highlighting the necessity of being open to ideological and political change. Almost more than all that though, it's tremendous fun.

The play begins in a village hall on Christmas Eve with Elliot Levey's delightfully neurotic widower Andy rehearsing a welcome home speech to his estranged grown-up daughter, amid a full-on assault of festive paraphernalia. He's very funny but with an undertow of delicately wrought sadness. Andy is then disturbed by an unwelcome visitor, Amber James' mouthy, dynamic Natalie, who claims she's there to borrow some plates for the following day. It would be a shame to reveal why Natalie is so interested in Andy's situation, but what follows is a thoroughly engaging battle of wits that wears its intelligence and political correctness lightly.

Bartlett is too intelligent a writer to present only one side of an argument and so while Natalie represents a rightly furious younger generation who perceive themselves robbed of a whole raft of possibilities thanks to the Brexit vote, Andy's Leave stance is expressed with considerable eloquence. It helps that James and Levey are both so persuasive, delivering performances of genuine wit and power. James in particular is a knockout as a loud, lovable tornado of change that gets right up in Andy's face but never becomes preachy. Ellen Robertson also delivers really fine work as the third character, who takes the conflict to another level.

Clare Lizzimore's swift, smart direction gives free rein to the many wonderful laughs in Bartlett's script but also handles the darker, angrier elements with real precision and clarity. From Jeremy Herbert's convincing set, all municipal starkness meets festive bad taste, to Jessica Hung Han Yun's nicely considered lighting, this really is a superb production. The only slight flaw is the unnecessary inclusion of an interval: the whole script only plays at around 90 minutes and having a break somewhat undermines the tension and flow. The first half, essentially a monologue for Levey's Andy, is enjoyable but slightly ponderous while act two is an absolute cracker; running them together would make the contrast less marked.

All in all though this is a richly enjoyable, thought-provoking play that speaks urgently to the here and now while also taking on broader, timeless truths about what binds human beings together and why we should never stop listening to each other. I had a real lump in my throat by the end of it. It's rather special.