Friday, 19 July 2019

Review: The Melting of a Single Snowflake (Salford Arts Theatre, GM Fringe)

Wednesday 17th July 2019
Salford Arts Theatre

The Greater Manchester Fringe continues throughout July, and I continue to review shows for this blog and for North Manchester FM. In 2017, I reviewed two Fringe shows, and in 2018, I reviewed eleven. I definitely think I’m on track to beat that number in 2019! On Wednesday 17th July, I saw The Melting of a Single Snowflake at Salford Arts Theatre, a new play by writer-in-residence Libby Hall. Hall was one of the people I interviewed back in June for my Hannah’s Bookshelf Greater Manchester Fringe Special, so once again I was really looking forward to seeing this one.

Written by Hall and directed by Roni Ellis, The Melting of a Single Snowflake is an ambitious ensemble piece featuring performers from Salford Arts Theatre’s Young Performers Company. As I talked about with Hall in our interview, the play grew out of workshops involving the young actors, meaning that the company played an integral role in generating and developing ideas for Hall’s script.

The Melting of a Single Snowflake takes place in the aftermath of the disappearance of a schoolboy, Sam, during the summer holidays. The cast (of eleven young actors) play a group of Sam’s friends, peers and neighbours who are brought together through their shared (if a little tenuous in some cases) involvement in Sam’s life. The real ambition of the piece lies in the fact that the story is carried entirely by the young performers (there are no adult characters in the play), and also in the complexity of the relationships that are evoked through the dialogue. This isn’t a straightforward tale of the powerful bonds of friendship, but rather a story that reminds us young people have just as many varied reasons for spending time together as adults do.

Set during the school holidays and with a recorded audio backdrop of news reports on adolescent mental health, gang crime and Sam’s disappearance, The Melting of a Single Snowflake unabashedly sets itself up to tackle ‘big’ issues. As the young people gather to discuss the missing boy, conversations range from knife crime to drugs, from social media to sexuality. There is a frankness to these conversations, which is both hard-hitting and humorous, and some of the issues raised are handled in surprising and nuanced ways.

In particular, I found several of the conversations about Cameron (played by Adam Marsland)’s sexuality offered a refreshing and sensitive take. However, this was done without heavy-handed virtue-signalling, as the overall message was punctuated by a range of responses – from Kay (Calia Wild)’s concern that the group is too young for romantic relationships, to Alfie (Dillon Parker)’s clumsy macho posturing, to Amber (Sienna Kavanagh)’s comical confusion of bisexuality with bipolar disorder. While some poetic licence is employed to have all of these reactions occurring openly and simultaneously, The Melting of a Single Snowflake offers a convincing microcosm of the confusion and conflict that accompanies coming-of-age.

I’ve used the word ‘conversations’ a lot in this review, and it feels like the most apt description of how story is constructed in the play. The action takes place off-stage – indeed, some has occurred before the play begins, and some will occur in the time that elapses during the interval – and so everything we know about these characters, about their world, and about the missing boy Sam is conveyed though the dialogue. This is a challenge for the cast, but – aided by smart direction by Ellis – they are up to the task. With the group coming and going from the stage, and interacting in different combinations at different times, a sense of flow and development is created.

The Melting of a Single Snowflake is very much an ensemble piece, and it’s not really possible to single out individual performances or characters as ‘central’. Each one carries a part of the story, and the play’s strength lies in its group dynamic, from Josie Leigh’s belligerent wannabe boxer Mia to Jasmin Marsland’s know-it-all Demi.

I enjoyed the dynamic between Jake (Charlie Kenney) and Jodie (Elizabeth Pearson), two very different young people caught up in a world of crime that’s way outside their control. Leia Komorowska is great as fragile and haunted outsider Levi, and Joel Hill reveals excellent comic timing in his performance as Devon, a filter-less chatterbox whose near-continuous off-the-wall monologue throws the audience off-guard for one of the play’s more aggressive sucker-punches. Last but by no means least, Vincent Purcell plays Tom, Levi’s older brother and an eloquent observer of the group and its various social predicaments. In places appearing like a character somewhat out of time, Tom emerges as a detached and astute narrator of human frailty – but one surrounded by darkness and grief.

The Melting of a Single Snowflake is very much a game of two halves. On the one hand – and probably the more dominant aspect of the first act – it is a narrative that highlights the fears, concerns and disillusionments of young people, signalled by the news commentary. In the face of a crisis in mental health care, knife crime, a gang that may or may not have killed their friend, and (I don’t want to sound old here) a complete lack of adult support or intervention, how are these young people supposed to cope? However, there is another intriguing and compelling story running parallel to this, a much more personal (and, in many ways, more old-school theatrical) tale that comes into its own in the second act – but to say anymore would give spoilers! All credit to Hall, though, for bringing these two aspects together into a strong overall story.

In addition to the great writing, direction and performances, The Melting of a Single Snowflake also features a stylish set design by Roni Ellis and Scott Berry, which uses scattered debris and rubbish (including – I’m sure I saw – an old discarded municipal street sign for the Salford Arts Theatre’s predecessor theatre!) and a graffitied wall to effectively evoke both locale and the atmosphere.

The Melting of a Single Snowflake is an ambitious and thought-provoking piece of theatre, which showcases the talents of the Salford Arts Theatre’s young performers company and of its writer-in-residence, Libby Hall (who came through the company herself). A very enjoyable show that packs an unexpected punch.

The Melting of a Single Snowflake is on at Salford Arts Theatre on 17th-19th July, as part of the Greater Manchester Fringe. For the full programme of Fringe shows on this year, visit the festival website.

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