The Infernal Serpent, Oran Mor, Glasgow ****
The current spring-summer season at A Play, A Pie, and A Pint is titled “stories from all over Scotland”; yet I still experienced a faint culture shock when I realized that this week’s lunchtime play is set in Dumfries And Galloway, a region all too rarely represented in 21st century Scottish drama and fiction.
In David Gerow’s The Infernal Serpent, we find ourselves in the back garden of Adam and Eve, a young couple who – like thousands of others over the last two years – have just moved out of the city, in their case to live in Galloway. They have brought with them their shared passion for snakes, creatures who, they believe, have been unfairly slandered throughout human history; and particularly their pet boa constrictor, which requires a constant diet of mice.
The two are happily planning to protest against the killing of an adder by a local celebrity, and post a message inviting people to join their Scotland Loves Adders campaign; where upon their little Garden of Eden is immediately invaded by a strange passer-by who says she wants to join up, even though the message was only posted seconds ago. Her name is Lucy; and it’s soon clear that we are about to see a re-enactment of Book of Genesis, in which the beguiling Lucy – becoming more snake-like by the moment, despite her human form – tries with the aid of some very special whiskey to lure Adam and Eve into shocking acts of violence and terrorism.
In this 21st century version of the tale, it’s Adam rather than Eve who proves the weakest link, succumbing to Lucy’s arguments, and rushing off with her to kidnap the celebrity’s pet dog; Eve, on the other hand, puts up a much tougher resistance. Evil is never completely defeated, of course; but with Cameron Fulton, Rebecca Wilkie and Mary Gapinski acting up a storm, under Beth Morton’s light-touch direction, The Infernal Serpent offers a well-made and enjoyable 45 minutes of entertainment, full of interesting insights into where we are now, in redefining the relationship between humankind and the animal world.
There are also demons to be resisted in The White Chip, American writer Sean Daniels’s searingly frank account of a young man’s descent into profound alcohol addiction, and his eventual recovery. Presented at this stage only as rehearsed reading, Daniels’s off-Broadway hit appeared at the Traverse and the Tron this week as part of the current Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival, in an evening staged by former National Theater of Scotland co-director Simon Sharkey, and his company The Necessary Space, a “theatre of opportunity” which specializes in building a sense of connection with those in society who may feel most isolated.
Beautifully performed despite only a day’s rehearsal by actors Tyler Collins, Lewis Howden and Sarah Rose Graber, The White Chip emerges as an extraordinarily powerful piece of writing about the profound psychological and social temptations of alcoholism, and the terrible depths which addicts sometimes have to experience before they can acknowledge their illness, and begin the long journey back to health. And that journey was fully acknowledged, at the Traverse on Wednesday, not only in the play itself, but in a post-show discussion which allowed many in the audience to speak about their own recovery from addiction; recognizing how profoundly Daniels’s play connected with their experience, and how this kind of theater work can help to break the isolation of those increasingly excluded from society, by their own illness and pain.
The Infernal Serpent is at Oran Mor, Glasgow, until 21 May; The White Chip is at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, until 20 May.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.