Backstage

Archive Feature: CUT SNAKE (2013 & 2015)

We’re continuing our 40th birthday celebrations by reminiscing and reflecting on another iconic Theatre Works production, CUT SNAKE.

CUT SNAKE is a play written by Dan Giovannoni, Amelia Evans and directed/devised by Paige Rattray. The three collaborated on multiple seasons of the show in 2013 and 2015 at Theatre Works. CUT SNAKE has a long history; in 2011 the production had sell out seasons at the Melbourne Fringe and Sydney Fringe Festivals. Originally produced by Sydney independent theatre company ARTHUR, the production has mounted several seasons and received many accolades along the way.

CUT SNAKE won a Melbourne Fringe award for Best Emerging Writers and was nominated for two Green Room Awards;

2011 Best New Writing for the Australian Stage – Paige Rattray, Dan Giovannoni and Amelia Evans, Cut Snake (Arthur / Melbourne Fringe)

2011 Best Ensemble – Cut Snake (Arthur / Melbourne Fringe)

CUT SNAKE explores the relationship of three friends Kiki, Bob and Jumper. The plot involves time travel, extraordinary dreams and themes of regret, grief and magic. The audience meets Jumper and learns of their life, their trip overseas and their death. After the death of their friend Jumper, Kiki and Bob try to fulfil their dreams and aim to have extraordinary experiences. Kiki and Jumper’s pet snake Trix perform their cabaret act all over the world, she climbs Mount Kilimanjaro and falls in love with a bearded lady named Lady Godiva. Despite her efforts to live life to it’s fullest Kiki’s experiences are all tainted in some way.

Bob spends his whole life focused on practical things apart from his single encounter with something magical. Unable to forget his magical experience and in an effort to honour Jumper, Bob invents time travel. He travels back to visit various historical figures and eventually Jumper, on the day that he died. After these events, the past is somewhat re-written and both Kiki and Bob find fulfilment in their lives in ways they could not imagine previously.

Amelia Evans discusses the complexities of writing the play in the 2013 Education Kit – “ We were influenced by many different performance styles. It’s overwhelmingly non-naturalistic, and we’ve borrowed from a lot of practitioners and methodologies”.  While the play deals with very real and identifiable themes of loss and growing up, it also weaves in many elements of magical realism to create something unique for audiences of all ages.

In 2013 CUT SNAKE was performed at Theatre Works and the show was selected for the VCE Drama Playlist [Drama 3]. After the 2013 season at Theatre Works, CUT SNAKE went on to tour Regional Victoria as part of the Regional Arts Victoria Education Tour. The production had a season at the Brisbane Festival and a performance at the Shene Estate in Tasmania. Cut Snake returned to Theatre Works in 2015 for a limited return season. The production had exceptional reviews and cemented Dan, Amelia and Paige as theatre makers to watch in Australia.

Frustratingly, in the research completed for this weeks blog focus there were limited images and information in the Theatre Works archives from the show. Ironically much of the information regarding the performance could be found in the CUT SNAKE Education Resource Kit written by Dan Giovannoni & ARTHUR. The resource kit now gives a valuable insight into the creation of the production which would otherwise be lost in time.

The resource kit tells VCE Students that cut snake is Australian slang for a person who is wild and crazy, without rationalism and attacking anyone around them. Dan writes that “CUT SNAKE is a tale of growing up, dying young and being extraordinary no matter what”. It’s interesting to imagine how these themes would have resonated with students, in an uplifting or relatable way.

The 2013 production of CUT SNAKE at Theatre Works was an ambitious departure from its fringe origins. CUT SNAKE was performed outside in a small circus tent on astroturf, which was challenging given that it was performed in summer. This gamble in stagecraft paid off as many reviews note the staging as a highlight. Christine Moffat wrote “The ‘rough around the edges’ appearance is actually great stagecraft.  The show feels roughened, not rough: worn-in like a favourite pair of jeans.  This made the audience immediately comfortable in the high-energy, crazy, tiny theatre space.” 

Paige Rattray wrote “There is no formal set design for CUT SNAKE – because the show is so transportable, where it’s being performed becomes the set, which is really just a backdrop. For example we did it in a kitchen in a pub, so the backdrop for that performance was a weird 1970s kitchen. We also did it in a park under a tree, so the tree was the backdrop. We did this because the central tension the play is ‘ordinary vs extraordinary.’ We think the experience of the play is quite extraordinary, so we want it performed in ordinary settings”.

The subject matter engaged audiences and reviews applauded the complexity of the script given its 50 minute run time and approach to difficult subject matter. Kate Rose gave the play a 5 star review for the Herald Sun and writes “If ever a live event needed an instant replay function it would be CUT SNAKE, so its 50 minutes of delight could be enjoyed over and over again. It is an absolutely gorgeous production; a wide-eyed, energetic and endearing paean to youthful optimism.”

The witty and complex narrative of the show was enhanced by particular design elements which could change for each iteration. ARTHURS deliberate emphasis on an intimate setting, minimalist props and costumes, puppetry and non-naturalistic performance styles created a world which audiences loved. Rebecca Harkins-Cross commented; “physical theatre, clowning, acrobatics, sock puppetry -it’s all performed with demented energy. Under Paige Rattray’s direction, these hybrid strains unite with admirable precision from a talented young cast.”

Mad as a Cute Snake, written and directed by Dan Giovannoni and Amelia Evans was performed at Theatre Works in 2019. Dan Giovannoni revealed that Mad as a Cute Snake is a sort of spiritual sequel to CUT SNAKE. At the end of CUT SNAKE, the character Kiki gives birth to a child (Cardigan) and then Mad as a Cute Snake is about Cardigan. There are a few character crossovers – Trix the snake, Kiki and James, Cardigan and Mrs Broccolini all appear in both plays. Mad as a Cute Snake was a highly successful show for children and families and was nominated for a Green Room Award for Set / Costume Design (Independent Theatre) – Matilda Woodroffe & Hannah Murphy.

It’s inspiring to see an independent production have such a long and lasting impact on audiences. We’re looking forward to seeing what the future holds for these writers and creatives.

CUT SNAKE Cast & Crew

DIRECTOR/DEVISOR Paige Rattray

WRITERS Amelia Evans, Dan Giovannoni

PRODUCER Belinda Kelly

COMPOSER Tom Hogan

WITH Julia Billington, Catherine Davies & Kevin Kiernan-Molloy

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