Theatre review - Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes

DON’T Sleep There Are Snakes, based on former missionary Daniel Everett’s memoir, is a powerful mediation on colonialism, anthropology and language. In the 1970s, Everett began his decades-long research into the Pirahã, a hunter-gather tribe from the Brazilian Amazon rainforest. He set out to convert the group to Christianity. Instead, he learned their language, realised that their way of life had lessons of its own and abandoned his faith.

Simple8 utilise the conventions of “poor theatre”, favouring physicality and performance skills over set and costumes. Co-directors Sebastian Armesto and Dudley Hinton have deftly condensed Everett’s work into just 90 minutes. Played out on a bare stage, the six actors convey Everett’s (Mark Arends) flight into the jungle using a miniature aeroplane and simple sound effects, while a twisted rope suggests an aerial view of the rivers below.

The Pirahã live in the now and wholeheartedly reject Everett’s religious beliefs. There are some harrowing moments – for instance when a Pirahã baby, whose mother has died in childbirth, is killed by the father. The tribe’s easy-going attitude towards sex, penchant for body-licking and love of alcohol provide some other hair-raising moments for Everett. Ultimately, though, at the point the Pirahã come to accept him the drama loses its edge.

Nevertheless it’s an engaging evening. Arends captures Everett’s passion for his subject and ensuing bafflement when out of his depth.  The cohesion and fluidity of the ensemble, playing multiple roles, is also impressive.
Park Theatre 020 7870 6876

Originally published by Camden Review