REVIEWS : Great boas of today and other beasts

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The Independent Culture
The Snake House Greenwich Studio, London SE10

Anthony Neilson must be surveying all the brouhaha over Sarah Kane's violent play Blasted with some interest since his plays Normal and Penetrator stirred up similar debate when they were first staged at the Edinburgh Festival.

Neilson directed both and now he is back, directing again, only this time it's a piece by Andrew Gregory. There's no physical violence on this occasion, but plenty of menace and similarly unsettling psychological territory.

Set in the snake house of London Zoo, this short two-hander examines a brief encounter between two people. Vivian appears a cynical, self-possessed young woman; Craig seems a shy, harmless individual - though a bit of a loner. Their meeting is apparentlya coincidence, but gradually it emerges that Craig knows far more about Vivian than he ought to. He has followed her to the zoo as he follows her everywhere. Soon we realise that he is the snake, out to corner Vivian and control her with his knowledge. We watch as they swap roles until he has the power and she is terrified.

Directed tightly by Neilson to savour every twist, the play has a certain horrid fascination (though it is heavy-handed with the analogies between the inmates of the snake house and their human visitors). Craig Edwards and Rachel Atkins pull you subtly into their characters' ghastly situation, while Naomi Wilkinson's clever design places the audience in the position of the snakes, looking on impassively as this sick human predator moves in on his prey. All in all, it makes for a cold and joyless eveningin the theatre - but one should just be grateful that they didn't meet in the lions' den.