The Upcoming Review of Don't Sleep There Are Snakes

Award-winning theatre company Simple8 delights in telling unusual stories in simple ways. In their latest endeavour they’ve joined forces with Park Theatre to explore an Amazonian encounter that takes us into the heart of the jungle – and human nature.

Mark Arends plays Christian missionary and linguist, Daniel Everett, on whose book and experiences the play is based. Sent to live amongst a remote Amazonian tribe, his goal is to learn the Piraha’s language and convert them. Arends is a convincing lead and gives the production its emotional centre. Opening with a song and recounting his story directly to the audience, he quickly catches our attention and holds it tightly in his grasp throughout, as we follow his journey from wide-eyed believer to enthusiastic proponent of a very different world view.

Simple8 is a company that’s all about the collective, and Arends gets some fine support from the other cast members. Fluidly slipping between roles (they each play several characters), Clifford Samuel in particular stands out. Under the creative direction of Sebastian Armesto and Dudley Hinton (also the writers), along with Hannah Emanuel, the five actors work together effectively, with a deliberately minimal set and props, to create the spectacle. With just a rope, they form a dilapidated old plane, and a giant, meandering river running through the Amazon. And they brilliantly mimic the sounds of the jungle on a hunting trip.

It’s no easy feat to depict learning another language on stage and this is where the play struggles slightly; although we are told it’s a huge effort for Everett to learn the tribe’s native tongue, it appears as if he picks it up almost immediately. The chasm between their words and worlds is brought more starkly to life later when Everett sings Don’t Worry Be Happy to his new-found friends, and attempts to explain the lyrics, in a very funny scene.

Everett’s story raises fascinating questions about language, faith and culture. As he discovers more about the Piraha’s way of life, the foundations that underpin his Western belief systems – both religious and linguistic – begin to shift and loosen. Don’t Sleep There Are Snakes throws out these big ideas with a lightness of touch, and leaves us to ponder them long after the imaginary curtain falls.