Edinburgh Fringe, Generation Snowflake, Harvey Reid, Heather Horseman, Jatinder Randhawa, Mark Thomson, Michael Johnson, Mirren Wilson, Pleasance Courtyard, Rachel Dunlay, Russell Dudley, Shyvonne Ahmmad, Siobhan Redmond, Snowflake by Mark Thomson, Students, Theatre Review
No two snowflakes are alike, making them individualism perfected, but they are also drippy when things get hot and liable to melt into pathetic puddles. “Snowflake” has henceforth become a term of abuse for narcissistic and oversensitive young people. It was one of Collins Dictionary‘s 2016 words of the year and, in the estimation of the Guardian newspaper, it was “the defining insult of 2016.” This insult is usually lobbed from the direction of the right or the “alt right.” “Generation snowflake” will be deployed to make you envisage a comical brigade of dopey, earnest undergraduates. The phrase is most often in the mouths of those people who would have said “Loony Left” in the 1980s.
Mark Thomson is an eminent theatre-maker, a former Artistic Director of Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre. His new play “Snowflake,” which is currently established at the Pleasance Courtyard, can be infuriatingly non-judgemental on the morality of Generation Snowflake. The play is very funny and it might take you a while to clock that it on the whole refrains from satire. It is in fact funniest when it is keeping its theme only loosely in mind, such as when items from around a student’s home come alive à la The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, or during an anarchic scene in which Rachel Dunlay free-associates on a golf course.
Audience members who think that the twenty-year-old heroine Jax (Shyvonne Ahmmad) is bratty and that her story is all a great drama will be still thinking this at the end of the play. Those who instead decide that “Snowflake” makes a crusading anthropological study of how Jax has been victimised by the previous generation will also locate enough fuel for their fire. Thomson therefore brings up a subject of controversy only to appear to have no firm or useful opinions on it.
“Snowflake” is beautifully acted and produced, so my review might be in the process of whipping away a gorgeous tablecloth to reveal nothing underneath. Yet there is actually an interesting mixture of contradictory ironies below the surface of this play.
On the one hand, “Snowflake” looks and feels like the sort of theatrical sitcom that UK undergraduates bring regularly to the Fringe. There is that cast of familiarly eccentric students and observations of their friendships and dalliances. But these kids are such snowflakes that they cannot even organise their own story! Thomson is the wry, studious outsider, a little like Andy Warhol in how he is engrossed in replicating the alien glamour of youth culture. He remains anthropologically detached, hovering beside the fridge at the student party. On the other hand, “Snowflake” showcases some superb talent from colleges around Scotland. So these young people are hardly, upon reflection, snowflakes after all! Indeed, there are impressive performances from everybody concerned.
You find the conclusive ambiguity deep in the guts of the play. When Jax’s mother (Siobhan Redmond) doesn’t turn up to her daughter’s twenty-first birthday party, instead sending a half-arsed apologetic note, you are supposed to linger over this kink. Is the self-harming Jax so vulnerable because her mother has repeatedly neglected her, or is it because Jax is a “cotton wool kid” who has never had to deal with life when the money runs low and you have to pay rent? Is the mother a heartless bitch or should Jax follow her “selfish,” humungous-penis-securing example? No answer is provided in the small print of the programme, and this possibly makes “Snowflake” more worthwhile as a piece of theatre than the implied satire upon campus attitudes.