*Content warning* Snowflakes contains themes of violence (including sexual violence) and extremely strong language.
We’re partial to a dark and twisty grown-up show so our interest was immediately piqued by the press release for Snowflakes, a black comedy promising a cross between Black Mirror and Inside No. 9. Exploring themes of morality, justice and revenge, Robert Boulton’s debut play offers a dystopian take on trial by social media, where the consequences of cancellation are distinctly more permanent than being hounded off Twitter.
Snowflakes imagines a world where moral outrage can be outsourced to an influencer-cum-executioner, with the fate of the accused lying in the hands of their viewers. At the click of a button, faceless keyboard warriors become members of a powerful jury that decides who deserves to die for their sins. Marcus (Robert Boulton) is the poster child for the start-up that offers this special service, having gained something of a cult following for his sadistic online interrogations.
His latest assignment sees him paired up with newbie, Sarah (Louise Hoare) who has worked her way up from the marketing department and is ready to take on a front line role in the organisation. They’re here to dispense justice to Tony (Henry Davis), a disgraced author. We know very little about what has brought Tony to this point but things aren’t looking good for him; while the outcome of Marcus’ interrogations is never predetermined, things only ever go one way.
It all takes place in a hotel room, with Davis spending an admirable amount of the first Act lying unconscious as the dangerous duo get acquainted. This might feel quite slow if you expect the play to centre on the issue of Tony’s innocence, but not if you see the plot twist coming; it feels clear early on that Sarah has an ulterior motive for being in the room and it’s easy enough to guess what her intentions are. Her reasons are less obvious initially but it is possible to piece things together as the action unfolds.
The pace picks up in the second Act, with the dark humour of the early scenes giving way to a greater sense of urgency as the clock ticks down towards the moment of judgement. Technology is used cleverly by videographer, Dan Light, with the interrogation filmed in real time and projected onto the vertical blinds of Alys Whitehead’s effective set. The thrust staging works really well here, with Mike Cottrell’s direction allowing the audience an interesting choice of viewing angles regardless of where they are seated. Jonathan Chan’s lighting design is also very powerful throughout.
It’s a compelling concept and the influence of Black Mirror is apparent. It’s dark, gritty and quite violent in places, with Bethan Clark’s impressive fight direction having real impact in the intimate auditorium. Boulton and Hoare offer captivating performances even (and perhaps especially) in the moments where their characters wait quietly in the background; it’s amazing how sinister the act of eating a bag of Quavers can become. Davis has slightly less to work with, even in the scenes where Marcus is conscious, but he very much convinces in the climactic moments where the bravado finally fades.
While there is a lot to like here (if what you like is distinctly dark comedy) the expected satire doesn’t really materialise. Boulton’s writing rather skates around the edges of the issues that it purports to raise, with the attempts to integrate them making the text feel a little clunky. The route to the plot twist also involves some slightly forced foreshadowing in the form of Marcus randomly leaving the room just in time for Sarah to take a phone call, and an inexplicable decision by Marcus to put himself in grave danger.
Overall, while Snowflakes is perhaps not quite as provocative as intended, it’s an extremely promising debut which could be exceptional with some tweaks to the text to bring the ethical issues into sharper focus.
Snowflakes plays at Park Theatre from 12 April to 6 May 2023. We received a complimentary ticket to the press performance on 17 April.