‘Sneakyville is about Charles Manson. It is also not about Charles Manson. It’s about all of us.’ states Director Daniel Lammin. As someone who (by my own admission) has a slightly worrying fascination with serial killers and the anthropology surrounding what makes a sociopath, this play immediately sparked my interest. I must warn you that if you’re easily offended by racism, violence and misogyny then perhaps this play isn’t for you, however its gritty content is warranted and completely in keeping with the context.
Fortyfive Downstairs is the perfect space to host this piece, with it’s no frills white bricked walls and hard wood floor the audience are invited into the performance space to take our positions either side of the traverse stage. The space consists of a wooden ramp accompanied by two metal chairs as the set, while the loud psychedelic music plays as we settle in amongst the pink and green lighting. Although the space at Fortyfive Downstairs is fairly large, this play calls for an intimate setting; the space has been halved by a curtain and the set designed in such a way that the audience is sitting only inches away from the performers.
Act one begins with a member of the Manson family presenting to the audience her side of the story and introducing us into this world which suggests that maybe Charles Manson isn’t an evil serial killer. Maybe ‘Charlie’ has been misrepresented – even victimised by the media; naming the New York Post as a ‘totalitarian tabloid shit show’. Maybe his crimes were in fact the exact opposite of the senseless killings that we believe them to be and we have just misinterpreted them, in Charlie’s world it all made perfect sense. The play’s opening scenes set the pace for the rest of the performance, as the characters and writing portray ‘Charlie’ as this God-like figure, all seeing and all knowing. This is where I find the writing to be particularly well informed as Christopher Bryant cleverly opens the audience up to the idea of possibly gaining an understanding of how these people came to commit such heinous crimes.
Sneakyville uses a range of performative styles which all work especially well with the set design. The set is intentionally minimalistic and clinical, there are two plastic sheet curtains either side of the performance space which are pulled in front of the audience at various moments in the piece. I particularly appreciated the simplicity of these, as they were used for transitions but also to impair the audience’s view of the performers in order to mirror the characters use of drugs and blurred reality. The set was also very versatile, giving the actors, writing and other performative elements room to take effect within the space. The minimalism for me not only means that the elements such as projection, lighting, movement, smoke, physical theatre and music can take effect in the space. Also that the phenomenons being presented in this play ultimately exist simply because of human nature; these events and our fascination with them are ominously timeless and could be happening 50 years in the past or 50 years in the future; the jarring truth is that in fact the dark side of humanity is never going to change.
With a considerably lengthy script the ensemble did well to maintain a varied pace, not only with regard to the rhythmic flow if the writing but also when sharing the space with each other. Although all of the cast were consistent and gave solid performances; for me Julia Christensen stood out among them as the most engaging performer with her energetic and individual portrayals of multiple characters.
What sets this play aside from being just a simple exploration of the life of one of the world’s most famous serial killers, is the way in which it has been made relevant to our everyday lives. Crimes that took place over 40 years ago in a country thousands of miles away have been linked to present everyday life in Australia. Just because we don’t act on the impulsive and sometimes violent thoughts that frequently cross our minds as human beings, does that mean that we’re in control? Or is it in fact the complete opposite? Have we merely been conditioned through a widely accepted interpretation of reality to suppress our honest desires and in doing so are we ever truly free?
You know that you’ve seen a good piece of work when you come away questioning you’re own interpretation of reality and considering that maybe everyone has the potential to be Charles Manson and perhaps he was just brave enough to put thoughts into action. I would highly recommend Sneakyville, for its political sociological and criminological themes along with some brilliant writing, performance and artistic vision.