Snakes in Park 200 (!)
by Andrew Wilson
Snakes have a gestation period of about three months.
Don’t Sleep There Are Snakes, which opens in Park 200 on 23 March, has had a gestation period of eight years.
It was November 2008. Dudley Hinton was listening to a Radio 4 interview with Dan Everett. A linguistics professor and former missionary, Everett is one of the few (about six) outsiders fluent in the language of the Pirahã tribe in Brazil’s Amazon basin. He’d written a wonderfully readable book about how he’d lived among them, learned the language, translated one of the Gospels into it, lost his faith – and his marriage – in the process, and much else. Don't Sleep There Are Snakes is the name of the book and also one of the Pirahã’s ways of saying goodnight.
Dudley told his writing partner Seb Armesto that he thought the book had possibilities onstage.
“I told him I thought it was a stupid idea,” says Seb, grinning. The two set up their simple8 theatre company in 2006, a few years after graduating in the same class at Webber Douglas (now part of the Central School of Speech and Drama).
Seb continues, “Then I read it, and we talked about it, and I started to see how exciting it might be onstage.”
But a few things happened (“other stuff” says Dudley) in between 2008 and 2016. Simple8 put on a bunch of well-received plays, some with famous sources (The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, Moby-Dick, Les Enfants du Paradis), others up-to-the-minute commentaries (last year’s Texas Sharpshooter). Seb did a lot of acting (BBC, National Theatre, the most recent Star Wars); Dudley amassed some serious producing skills (Guys and Dolls and Avenue Q, literary and mime festivals).
Meanwhile, back at the Snakes hatchery... They thought about it, workshopped it, wrote a script, consulted with Dan Everett (“Lovely man,” says Seb, “completely cool with our extrapolations – he’s coming to see it on April 15”), and alighted on Park 200 after seeing These Shining Lives.
“It has this intimacy because of the shape,” says Seb. “A kind of campfire feel of people gathered around that works with this story of people from the Amazon.”
“Without trying to do an accurate representation of an Amazonian tribe,” adds Dudley.
Despite their involvement with high-budget projects in film and commercial theatre, the two have dedicated simple8 to the “poor theatre” approach. “It means we spend money on people, not things,” says Seb.
Does that mean they won’t be using any of the Park Theatre’s redoubtable technical capacities – lighting, sound design, props?
“Lights definitely – we’d like the audience to see what we’re doing,” deadpans Seb. Otherwise it will be just two chairs, a sheet, and a tape recorder.
“And a rope,” adds Dudley. “And what six actors can do with their voices and bodies.”
There are 18 characters in the script, which has a wonderful mix of shaggy-dog humour and Stoppardian intellectual playfulness. Is it hard to traffic-manage so many parts, I ask?
The two look at each other and laugh.
“Our record is 92 characters, in Les Enfants du Paradis,” says Seb. “People playing multiple roles is one of the pleasures of bare-stage theatre like this because you see the transformations in front of you. That’s the fun of it.”
* * *
(A comforting word for the squeamish: there will be no snakes in Park 200. But watch the rope.)
Photos, top to bottom: Dudley Hinton,
Seb Armesto, Director Hannah Emanuel
(courtesy Idil Sukan).