For their first production of the year, Headgate Theatre Productions present a late Ayckbourn, written in 2001, and one of his lesser-known plays. Still the second most produced playwright in Britain, after Shakespeare, and still writing, Snake in the Grass is the most unlikely Ayckbourn!

It’s part thriller, part ghost story, two hugely popular genres. Sisters Annabel and Miriam reunite following their father’s death, meeting in the run-down garden of their father’s dilapidated house. A sacked nurse, Alice, demands money, attempting to blackmail the sisters claiming that Miriam killed their father, her proof being a handwritten letter from the father claiming abuse at the hands of Miriam.  Miriam is clearly damaged, and a sequence in Act Two reveals the abuse she suffered from her father, and Annabel also reveals the abuse she suffered from her husband. This felt a little unconvincing, as if the writer was ticking boxes, and I found the twists a little predictable.

However, where the production succeeds is that director Chrissie Kettle has cast the play perfectly, with three excellent performances. Helen Bridge captures perfectly the twitchy nervousness of Annabel, facing her own demons, yet trying to be practical in the face of her sister’s instability. In her first role at the Headgate, Emma Wallis is brilliant as Miriam, childlike, changing her emotional responses on a sixpence, always likely to go into a rage. Sharmila Peake is equally excellent as the nurse Alice, hitting comedy beats perfectly. All three performers work incredibly well together, and the pace is lively and strong.

It’s all performed on an outstanding set; well done to the set building team, who bring the outdoors convincingly to life indoors, and there are many depths for the challenges the script presents. As the night darkens, so do the spooky elements that really make the audience jump! A highly enjoyable evening at the theatre, and a good start to the theatrical year for Headgate!