I'm a freelance actor, travel writer, photographer, foodie and attention seeker living in the lower North Shore. Check out my blog at www.emmajaneexplores.com for more.
The effects of war on the human condition
Playing at KXT until the 24th November is the winner of the NSW Premier's Literary Awards, The Serpent's Teeth by Daniel Keene. bAKEHOUSE at the KXT have a reputation for producing diverse and provocative theatre in a unique and intimate setting. Made up of two stories: Citizens and Soldiers, The Serpent's Teeth addresses the very human cost of war and conflict.
The Serpent's Teeth is a play in two parts. First, Citizens depicts people living on the edge of conflict trying to go about their lives as best they can. These people are living next to dividing wall and their existence highlights the fragility of human life living on the knife edge of conflict. Through intricate, fragmented snapshots, Keene's script teamed with Kristine Landon-Smith's direction creates a poignant and haunting glimpse of lives lived in war zones.
The second part of The Serpent's Teeth is Soldiers, a brutal look at the human cost of war as families of dead soldiers gather at a Sydney airforce base to collect the bodies of their loved ones. There is more dialogue in this second section than in the first, and at times I wonder if it would have been more effective to show us the different coping mechanisms of these family members, rather than talking them. I would have liked to have seen the actors able to sit in their emotional lives a little more, as it felt that some of the heightened language at times pulled them out of their public solitude and felt unnatural.
Director Kristine Landon-Smith has assembled a diverse and strong cast that truly represents the fabric of our global society. It's one of the things I love about coming to shows at the KXT - these guys have been championing diversity on our stages for a long time now and really set themselves apart as an industry leader when it comes to casting. In Citizens, Landon-Smith's direction is natural and unforced and the effectiveness is in the simplicity of the piece. However, in Soldiers, the direction of the piece becomes a little unclear at times. With emotions running high and fast entry/exits into scenes it starts to feel like every actor enters the space and then shortly after storms off stage again, with one angry reaction blending into the next. The moments of stillness (often spoken in another language) are the highlights of the second part of the play.
The design elements of this production are similarly impressive in their simplicity. Production designer Nick Fry's barbed wire fence creates an instant sense of anxiety and danger, Martin Kinnane's lighting highlights the subtle set beautifully and Felix Cross's composition as part of Cat Coleman's sound design is haunting, poignant and transcendent.
As an ensemble cast, the fifteen actors have a nice flow on stage. This is a show with small, fragmented glimpses into each character's lives which can be difficult to navigate, but each actor has nice moments shared with the audience onstage. Particularly powerful are the standout performances from Jillian Nguyen and Phoebe Grainer. Both actors allow themselves to honestly and genuinely let their guards down at various moments and be completely vulnerable to us - it's lovely work.
Kristine Landon-Smith quotes Daniel Keene in her director's note, saying that The Serpent's Teeth "portrays the cost of war for people leading otherwise ordinary lives." This is certainly achieved with this production and is particularly effectively done in the first section, Citizens. With an extremely short season, finishing on 24th November, this is a thoughtful and intricate night at the theatre.