Snail, VAULT Festival

by Diana Miranda

Written and performed by Bebe Sanders, Snail is a comic exploration of an overachiever’s mental health, unravelled with a surrealist touch. Through the eyes of Sylvie, a young teacher striving for a promotion, the story lays out the impact of intense work ethics and a tendency towards toxic positivity.

Sylvie struggles to keep up with her self-imposed “work hard, dream big and stay positive” mantra, avoiding any kind of introspection that may announce burnout. While she juggles a winner’s task list, from volunteer work to exercise, she’s forced to confront her own mental health when her students choose to get Nigel the snail as a class pet. On the verge of exhaustion but determined to nail the perfect class project, Sylvie becomes obsessed with snails. Next thing she knows, she hears Nigel’s voice in her head with an alluring, Barry White-y vibe (played by Hayden Wood) inducing her to slow down and let her hair loose. She finally descends so far into burnout that hallucination and reality interweave as she spirals over a wacky, snail-driven emancipation.

Directed by Imy Wyatt Corner, the show is peppered with moments of surreal comedy that juice all the slime out of the snail analogy. It addresses issues from wellbeing to sex liberation, with great comedic effect. The scene of snail sex is a definite standout, performed as a sensually goofy dance with a shiny toy sword and antennae headband (shout out to movement director Laurie Ward).

Cat Fuller’s set is a mix of natural and tech-y artifices. Nigel’s tank stands out on a stage lined with small, potted garden plants that add a touch of botanical life to the scene. The large translucent screen at the back provides an intriguing backdrop full of witty surprises. Kayode Gomez’ soundscape and Catja Hamilton’s clever lighting design create the perfect atmosphere for Sylvie’s mental rollercoaster, and they add vibrancy to the scene when the slimy alter ego comes to life.

Bebe Sanders is a joy to watch. Her outbursts are vigorous and at times very moving. She is able to transition between characters seamlessly, and her charisma is contagious. It’s engaging to see her become the personable and funny characters she portrays, from a seven-year-old to a cold-hearted boss, and her slimy self is particularly memorable.

Sanders’ clever and relatable writing speaks to anyone who’s ever tried to keep up with mainstream expectations (not to mention fringe theatremaking), but it finishes with a the-hell-with-it moment that, while profoundly cathartic, leaves loose ends about how Sylvie will navigate her new, slimy wisdom. However, the performer’s lively wit is satisfying and wants nothing more.

Snail gets audiences on board with its creative, incredibly informed analogy of snails coupled with an original set design, and a cheeky performance that reflects on colossal workloads and self-delusion. With a comedic touch, it shows us the importance of taking a step back and slowing down.

Snail runs through 5 March.

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