It must be daunting to bring back a play that was so successful in its initial performances. A Hundred Words for Snow debuted at the Arcola Theatre in 2018, winning the VAULT Origins Award for outstanding new work, before transferring to the Trafalgar Studios in the West End. But this is exactly what theatre company In Her Element have decided to do, bringing this tender text to the OSO Arts Centre, idyllically sited next to a pond in Barnes. I’m delighted to say that they pull it off; the play is beautifully interpreted, and the performances striking in their competency.
It’s not often that I leave a play having been particularly struck by words, the beauty of language isn’t often the focus of a performance, or not consciously at least. But Tatty Hennessy’s stunningly selected language is just exquisite. Had the theatre been pitch black the entire time, her play would still have been beautiful, touching and moving. There’s a lasting yearning to read the play text and absorb her writing in more detail. Many reviewers sit with a notebook, and this is the only time there is some regret that I haven’t joined them to jot down some of the finest lines.
The 90-minute play is a monologue. It’s fast-paced, in the voice of a grief-stricken, angry and passionate teenager struggling with the death of her father. Such an epic feat is expertly performed by Nicole Cuthbert who plays 15-year-old Rory. It’s remarkable that this is Nicole’s professional debut. She’s one to watch. To portray the innocence of the character, alongside the awe and wonder of her adventure to the North Pole with the ashes of her father, is no mean feat. And to have us laughing along the way is even more impressive. She captures the audience’s attention immediately. Her energy never drops, and neither do her lines, she’s truly impressive. She brings real power to the more profound moments of the play, carrying the entire room with her throughout.
The only other person on stage, apart from the urn full of ashes, is cellist Stephanie Cummins, who tackles Nicholas Skilbeck’s beautiful compositions with grace and determination. As a string player myself, I’ve been asked to do some weird things with my violin but evoking the sounds of ice breaking and cracking as it moves, using the back of her instrument, is a new one. Stephanie is a subtle presence on stage, but the impact of the haunting sounds of her cello are profound.
Whilst there are so many exquisite moments throughout the play, the only thing that slightly lets it down is the projections, or the fact that their effect is lost for much of the audience. Whilst Nicole is a master at making sure the whole audience, who sit on three sides of the stage, are involved, the graphics behind her are less inclusive. At times those of us on the sides were craning our necks to see what was on the screen. So, despite the projections having potential, and the animation being quirky, mostly the impact was lost by the layout of the theatre space.
Despite this, and the painfully creaky chair in the front row (please sort that one OSO Arts Centre!), A Hundred Words for Snow proves once again what a spectacular piece of playwriting it is, with In Her Element, and in particular Nicole Cuthbert, doing it justice. It was a breath of fresh, Arctic air.
Written by: Tatty Hennessy
Directed by: Lydia Sax
Produced by: In Her Element
A Hundred Words For Snow plays at OSO Arts Centre until 11 September. Further information and bookings can be found here.