In our current age, where wars are no longer pitched battles on a field, but fought for years in cities and towns, The Serpent’s Teeth is a vital reminder of the unsettling ordinariness of contemporary destruction and the horror facing millions of forgotten souls. In the play, ordinary is the way these individuals go about their daily lives amid atrocity, the way conversations and interactions resume, surrounded by death and suffering.
Challenging the sensationalised images which create a detached imagination of war, The Serpent’s Teeth tears its incisors into the sensational, to reveal the lived reality of conflict for millions of individuals for whom destruction is their everyday. With the first act of the play characterised by vignettes of very ordinary people “just trying to go about their lives behind the wall of separation” as Director Kristine Landon-Smith described, the play intends to give the audience a sense of the monotonous hardship for those clutched in war’s grip. Even where horror adopts an entirely unprecedented level of chilling in the second act, as individuals torturously anticipate the return of their dead relatives, the play’s understated essence prevails.
As Landon-Smith recognised, “they’re not hysterical, they’re well-observed, they’re gentle and poetic, people grappling with grief.”
The play’s thoughtful conversation aims to arouse empathy in an audience typically sheltered from the daily plague of conflicts across the globe. It is precisely this authentic relevancy that drew Landon-Smith to the directorial role.
“Your mind does start to think about how there are all those wars that are not consistently reported or attended to and we just go about our lives, so it is a very powerful play in that sense,” Landon-Smith said. “Today it is just so relevant with wars of separation, hard borders and soft borders all being put up as barriers.”
With a cast of 15 diverse and talented actors, Landon-Smith aptly incorporates her passion for intracultural practice in elevating beyond the common nationalistic tropes of war in the play. Co-founder of intracultural-focused UK theatre company, Tamasha, Landon-Smith has a dedicated history of propelling cultural minorities to the stage, and described the very damaging performance barriers often confronting cultural minorities.
“They would leave part of themselves out of the room and couldn’t quite achieve their full potential if they did that,” Landon-Smith described. “When people can be themselves they take real ownership, they have agency and this makes the performances fluid and very fluent”.
This is precisely what Landon-Smith practices in her directing of The Serpent’s Teeth. The cast’s diversity is expressed through the various language spoken throughout the play, including French, German and Vietnamese. This enhances the complicated legacies of refugees as diverse and complex individuals who transcend the victim stereotype. It is working with this diversity, for Landon-Smith, that is the most rewarding aspect of her role.
Landon described the work as “really [getting] under the skin of ordinary people.” Thus it is pivotal that the cast have the full capacity to express themselves in all their uniqueness.
Emerging from a UK context, Landon-Smith did lament the under-invested reality of Sydney’s arts’ scene. Describing the unbelievable underfunding of Sydney’s independent arts sector, Landon-Smith recognised the UK’s more cemented history with the arts and thus greater capital. However, this only makes the devotion of The Serpent’s Teeth diversely talented cast all the more incredible.
The Serpent’s Teeth runs until November 24. Grab tickets here: http://www.kingsxtheatre.com/the-serpents-teeth/