Snowbound @ Trafalgar Studios, London

cast list
Sam Hazeldine
Katherine Manners
Karl Davies
Sarah Beck Mather
Linda Broughton
Patrick Brennan
Deborah Thomas

directed by
Samantha Potter
Since his mother died, Tom has had to put his life on hold in order to look after his disabled brother Alex. He once had plans to travel, to go to university, but all this has had to wait. His sister Sally has managed to head off to Oxford, to do her own thing, but stoic Tom has stayed put. Then Tom meets Mary and he finds himself falling in love.

Ciaran McConvilles play is ambitious in its aims. It is a study of love and loss: love between men and women; parent and child; between brothers and sisters. It is a play that is unafraid of big emotional scenes, of wringing tears from its audience.

Sam Hazeldine is excellent as solid, dependable Tom. With him everything is measured and calm, he is a man accustomed to putting his own emotional needs aside for the good of others; even when something terrible happens to Mary, he holds it together, remains outwardly cool even if he is dying inside. Karl Davies manages to skirt away from clich in his portrayal of Alex, (who seems to be autistic though it is never explicitly stated) and the final scene between the two of them the roles reversed, the weaker brother trying to save the stronger is truly electric; it packs a tremendous emotional punch.

The supporting cast is equally strong. Katherine Manners rounds out the character of Mary, the kooky, slightly too-good-to-be-true girlfriend, and Patrick Brennan and Deborah Thomas spark nicely off each other as Gerry and Janet, the family friends who feel an obligation towards Tom and his siblings.

McConville writes with a care and clarity that makes one inclined to overlook the play’s occasional lapses into the over-familiar: the crumbling marriage held together through habit; the brother who is simple and yet wise at the same time, seemingly more perceptive than those around him. It is also a little structurally unwieldy, the narrative covers some ten years and contains a number of jarring leaps forward in time.

Though predictable in places, Snowbound contains some moments of real rawness: the mother trying to explain the unexplainable the pain of losing a child to the young, uncomprehending Sally; a tense dinner party where a host of volatile emotions simmer just below the surface, and, of course, that climactic meeting between the two brothers.

The scenes are artfully linked with little montages of projected video footage shot by Alex ostensibly for a television documentary project. These shots of people discussing what love means to them add both weight and humour to the play.

Samantha Potter’s production is not shy about pushing emotional buttons, about targeting the tear ducts, but the audience do not feel manipulated as McConville steers the play towards an emotionally brutal conclusion, and any tears that result are earned.

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