A Snake in the House Means the Family Will Never Want (2023), Fringe Online, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show info
Monica Tolia
Monica Tolia & Ting-ning Wen (Choreography)
Monica Tolia (Sound)
Fong Shao Ying (Voiceover)
Monica Tolia & Shao Ying Fong (Writing)
Shao Ying Fong & Vince Ng (Tisane Translation)
Phoenix Tanner (Dramaturgical support)
Monica Tolia & Ting-ning Wen
Running time

Strangeness and smudge sticks were a theme of this event, as you shall read. I felt disadvantaged at the start of the video, there is a woman’s voice giving a monologue in a language I do not speak and one of the performers appears to enact some sort of tedious, repetitive manual work. I wanted to understand what this was as the initial performance appeared to be a literal interpretation. Auto generated subtitles produced some bizarre text and didn’t help. Having a good set of subtitles with good interpretation might have helped. This performance appears to have taken place in the round when the event was recorded for this online show.

At the start of the event a strange partially hooded figure sits in the corner of the stage hidden inside a puffa jacket as the central dancer continues, it is a slightly disturbing sight to watch as it sits motionless and unengaged. A rhythmic beat is later slowly introduced and with great effect, energy slowly builds but never overwhelms. Part way through a pair of smudge sticks are set on fire and the the curling billowing grey smoke slowly creates a miasma which fills the stage, it’s a visually stunning element and creates a compelling scene which adds so much to the imaging of this performance. When at last the hooded figure emerges from its cocoon in the final stages of the show it is almost with a sense of relief we see the person revealed.

I have come to recognise that some physical performance shows are about imparting emotion and experience and others about communication a story, they can also be both. This show I think falls into the latter, it is an interpretation of another’s life and their experience. It explores emotional upheaval and some divisive aspects of culture through physical performance. It tries to do a lot but sometimes left me behind with lots of unanswered questions.

There was an underlying ambiguity for me. There were sparks of emotion but no clarity, there was exploration but the map it created which puts the performance into context and frame was partially missing. I liked the concept immensely, reading the theatre notes gives more detail but occasional the text wanders into nonsense like; ‘the performance projects transformational imaginings of cultural & futuristic hybridity’ if you really, really want to communicate with people you don’t write like this.

It is undoubtedly a complex and challenging piece to observe and absorb. I enjoy watching the envelope for dance and performance being challenged and pushed outwards even broken sometimes. I think the choreography and form of this performance attempts to do that, but for me fell some way short of achieving it. Technically it was one of the best online recordings I have watched, the sound and lighting were well balanced and the editing was seamless. Top marks for the work here.

Delivered Online
Available anytime.
Suitability: 16+
Tickets: £5