Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Edinburgh Fringe: 'Snowflake' at Pleasance Above, 8th August 2017

Snowflake reviewed by David James

Rating: 4 Stars

Jax is fast approaching her 21st birthday and going nowhere fast. Her Mum is off in Spain 'finding herself', she's failed to get a job after 16 interviews (admittedly she didn't turn up for 7 of them), her antidepressants are just giving her a bad stomach, her boyfriend has cheated on her, she's self-harming with a cigarette lighter and, to put a (shitty) cherry on top, her toaster is given up the ghost.

We meet her by degrees, first a shaky hand snaking out from under a duvet to silence a  mobile phone, then a puff of joint smoke ominously emerging from under a duvet. Eventually she crawls out to greet an unhappy world, gazing out into the audience and delivering a blistering monologue about the hell of modern life.

Snowflake is the go-to right-wing put down to young people. Originating in Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club ("you are not special, you are not a beautiful and unique snowflake") it's been now used to describe 'Generation Snowflake' - young people with a combination of entitlement, mental fragility and a passion for social justice.

And so, Snowflake serves up a gallery of fucked up millennials. They're agoraphobic, riddled with anxiety, depressed beyond pills, naturally pessimistic, poverty-stricken, furious with baby-boomers and driven to extremes of vanity by social media. They're also pretty much alright people: kind, friendly, supportive of one another and empathetic to a fault. 

Frankly it's a wonder that they're so nice. Unmoored in a chaotic world, buffeted by promises of climate apocalypse, getting into crazy debt to pay for a useless education, told they're too sensitive in the same breath as they're told they'll have to work into their seventies (that's if they can even find a job in an increasingly automated world). No wonder they're taking out their frustrations on their forearms.

Written and directed by Mark Thomson and produced by the Scottish Drama Training Network, Snowflake shows us a world caught in a paradox - loneliness shoulder to shoulder with unprecedented interconnectivity. Maintaining a frenetic pace throughout, Snowflake spins Jax through a whirlwind of scenes that rapidly cycle between locations and see her assaulted by personifications of procrastination, her broken toaster, her anti-depressants, the seductive cuddle of her cigarette lighter and the epitome of baby boomer greed and entitlement, President Donald Trump.

Peppered throughout the script are a tonne of well-observed moments. One of my favourites is when the characters take a selfie and upload it to Facebook, saying "That's the truth now". It's almost an incidental line, but it speaks volumes as to what 'truth' is in a world of constant online validation. If there's relationship and there's no-one LIKE it can it really be said to have happened? Similarly, there's a great exchange of dialogue where Jax and her friend Debs are watching a depressing nature documentary on Netflix - Debs runs down all the things she has to be concerned about in the world and cries out in despair "and now there's whales!"

It's an excellent piece of writing, and fortunately the performance quality is more than a match for it. Heather Horsman and Mirren Wilson are particularly wonderful as Jax's friends, and Harvey Reid achieves a lot with the smallish role of nervy Tesco employee Peter. 

But the undisputed star of the show is Shyvonne Ahmmad's Jax. That opening monologue instantly proves she's an extraordinarily talented actor, spending the play hurling herself into the role to killer effect. She's the lynchpin at the core of all this: compelling, touching, charismatic and palpably 'realistic', even within the generally stylised tone. 

She's so good that the play only really suffers when the focus shifts away from her. About midway through we get an extended Tinder sequence involving Mirren Wilsons' Debs and Michael Johnson's Tom. There's nothing wrong with the writing or performances, but it feels like an unnecessary digression from the central story.

But hey, it's a very small fly in the middle of a lot of very nice ointment. The only reason I saw Snowflake was that one of my comp reservations had gotten screwed up and I was left with two hours to kill. So I decided to go and see the first show that someone handed me a flyer for. I'm glad I did, Snowflake is one hell of an impressive show.

Snowflake is at Pleasance Above Aug 8-14, 16-21, 23-28. Tickets here.

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