Snippet Theatre Company is a new company made up of talented young graduates who have a very bright future. Snippet specialises in verbatim theatre - documentary style plays based on real first hand interviews - and Known follows the community in Welsh town Porthmadog a few years after the shocking murder of a teenage girl.This is a slick show and there are a couple of standout performances, but the ensemble also work together well as a whole. At times it seems almost as if the piece is choreographed; they move in and out of scenes and around each other characters with such grace.There are seven performers who all play multiple parts. They build layers of the community; presenting a town that relies heavily on tourism, where everyone knows each other and each other’s business. With no club teenagers head to the beach with cans of Fosters and everyone talks of leaving but of one day coming back. It’s not until the end of the piece that we hear from a family whose life was destroyed by the aforementioned murder. Most of the other interviews are light, funny and paint a picture of people sticking together and trying not to incriminate their hometown too much. I wanted to hear more from the people who were devastated by this tragedy. It’s understandably a difficult topic to interview people about and perhaps they couldn’t get people to agree to talk about it, but I would have liked to have seen more of the darker moments and a deeper portrayal of people trying to pick up the pieces of a broken life.Snippet raised funds to bring Known to Brighton Fringe through a successful kick-starter crowdfunding campaign and I hope their backers continue to support them in the future. Too often talented theatre companies disappear after a few successful plays due to lack of funds and I would hate this to happen to Snippet.
There’s something strange about watching a production in which there are no fictional characters. Shows after which a quick Google search or snoop on social media could reveal more about the real people represented on stage makes for sightly disturbing viewing. The difference is poignant and often makes you sit up and take note about the events in a way that fiction is easier to dismiss.Snippet Theatre’s courageous verbatim piece recounts the time a small town in Wales was rocked by the murder of a young woman. Most verbatim works fall into one of two categories: either they make clear, unapologetic reference to a specific, often well-known, subject, or their interviewees are generalised and unplaceable with minimal risk of their identities being uncovered.In Known, something different is happening: the town and people are real, but they’re not famous, they aren’t household names or important political figures, yet matching the personalities on stage to the people is a very real possibility. As the piece is centered on an uncomfortable and violent murder, it racks up the tension from the get go. The sense of peeking into the lives of a real community at a tragic and shocking time, of having their fears, anxieties and judgements on others revealed in such a public way makes this piece all the more affecting.What this production does exquisitely is to convey the sense of horror, fear and mistrust that has pervaded this small, close-knit community. The deep-rooted connections and friendliness that are rife in small seaside towns come through with force, hitting home this tragedy even harder.Emulating a wide range of members in this society, the company quickly builds a strong sense of what this community is like and how the people within it rely on and support each other. It’s evident both explicitly and implicitly in the staging of their work and their careful choice of interviews. Mundane discussions of routine activities are made comic by carefully timed, succinct scenes. Both performers and characters are at ease with one another, relaxing into their roles, as if their relationships go back for generations.The cast move smoothly through a range of ages and characters, picking up jackets and hoodies off of racks and assuming various roles with ease. Garments are strewn across the floor as they drop accents and physicality, discarded until the characters are awoken again. It further evokes a sense of a community; a never ending presence of families and friends who are always in and out of each other’s pockets.A particularly unpleasant moment depicting the murder itself is bravely drawn out, raising the tension and trapping the audience in its vulgarity; this company wants you to feel at least a fraction of the horror that this community felt, and they do a good job of not letting you escape that. Performing with huge sensitivity for such a young company, Snippet Theatre’s bold and exciting verbatim work is worth watching out for.
How does a small coastal town of about 5,000 deal with grief that a young woman they knew could have been murdered by someone from their own community? How does anyone cope with finding their quiet, respectful and close community is now the focus of national headlines and TV news reports?In 2010 the murder of 22 year old care worker Ffion Wyn Roberts placed Porthmadog, ‘Port’, in North Wales on the national stage and this new found attention brought with the serious prospect of dividing this community irreversibly.For any new company to tackle verbatim theatre is brave as what the company use as their text are real stories which makes a play they create from these narratives somewhat static in a way that makes it difficult to re-mould or reinterpret. But Snippet have been able to create a play that successfully has two narratives running alongside each other illustrating the difficult challenges old communities ar facing. Known also looks at the nature of a community, the effect of a devastating crime, how this change and tragedy goes to re-shaping peoples’ idea of community and what it means to be safe and to move on.They present a Porthmadog as town willing to be open about their past but a place that has seen the towns decline over the years, the limiting opportunity for its young people - and the difficult choices people are still having to make about raising their family.There is a delicateness and simplicity to how Snippet have brought Known to life that manages to be very personal, to both them and their interviewees. This illustrates the care they have taken in what they want the audience to understand about the people of Porthmadog and the tragedy that the community faced 5 years ago. It becomes clear as the company make their entrance on to the stage that Known is nothing going to be your run of the mill devised theatre piece. The company, all dressed in black and some holding chairs, walk on to the stage that is simply dressed with a black backdrop and rails filled with clothes set against the back wall. Throughout the play the use of lighting gives an added depth and adds a touch of realism to each of characters stories as the scenes unfold.Within this simplicity lies a very powerful punch that has an instant impact on the audience. The company leave it up to us to paint our own image of this community - from the murder, the accusations, the aftermath, the media spotlight, and the role of the youth in a modern Port - and by presenting each of the interviewees directly at the audience gives it the feel that it becomes us how are doing the interviewing. It becomes increasingly more obvious as the play precedes that there is still a hurt that this community still feels.The conversational style that they employ works well and never underplays any of the participants contributions and gives a sense of urgency that is at the very centre of their play. There is a great wealth of humour that captures the fact there is still strength in their community even if things have changed. They’ve understood that their participants words need to be the main focus of their play and this stripped down way of presenting their narrative is wonderfully realised. The more the play unfolds the more the audiences begins to see how important it is to hearing these voices.Theatre has come under heavy criticism in the UK because of its lack of focus on working class plays and the ever willingness to keep these plays, actors, and audiences at a distance. Snippet Theatre prove that what we are missing in British Theatre is valuable and urgent plays that creates powerfully emotional and thought-provoking theatre from real peoples lives.It must always be said that if a theatre company are going to make a debut at an international fringe festival then they need to ensure they do three things, they must be original, tackle difficult subject and create a production that is lasting. A debut is essentially a coming out of sorts to the world showcasing a companies ability and what their intention is.For Snippet Theatre what they’ve been able to do with Known is produce a play that is firmly in a league on its own, mature, respectful and is arguably one of the most thoughtful, honest, and touching debuts I’ve seen.