Mike Bartlett, born in 1980 in Oxford, is undoubtedly one of the most prolific and successful British playwrights and screenwriters of our time. His distinct expressivity, fuelled by sparkling dialogues and insightful stance, has a potency to create complex and versatile characters (full of sarcasm and irony in Bartlett’s unique blend of English humour) that are engaged in a broad and often intense socio-political context, thus identifying numerous neuralgic points of modern European society. Therefore, it is no wonder why Bartlett’s work enjoys such a great appreciation by the international audiences and critics alike – his genuine, provocative, and utterly enjoyable “discursive approach” in tackling various relevant topics of the day, ranging from climate change, conscientious objection to military service, corruption in politics and economy, Brexit, public scandals, generational conflict, and so on, spontaneously aims for universality and perpetuity. He uses plain and straightforward realism with an undisputed mastery of dialogues and intuitive psychological profiling of the characters featured.
The 2018 play Snowflake was commissioned and premiered at Christmas time at the Old Fire Station in Oxford. The original agreement allowed Bartlett to pursue his version of “a Christmas story” with an obligatory happy ending – which is exactly what Snowflake provides us with – the Father and Daughter making amends and spending Christmas together after many years of estrangement and suppressed emotional pain. Critics labelled the play as a “masterly written generational clash”, and a “warm and funny, yet bittersweet story of generational gaps in Brexit Britain”.
Andy, an educated and well-off middle-aged widower, anxiously expects a reunion with his long-lost daughter Maya. The latter had left the family house years ago – for a reason unknown to him – and had broken all contacts with him. Due to the sensitive nature of this reunion, at least in Andy’s view, he wishes to meet Maya on “neutral territory” – at the meeting hall of the church community in Oxfordshire. While expecting his daughter, Andy keeps “staging” the details of their reunion. Still, suddenly, an unknown young woman knocks at the door. Instead of his daughter Maya, he meets Natalie, who is – at it turns out – Maya’s girlfriend with the sole task to prepare the grounds for their meeting. As the story unfolds, Maya left her father only two weeks after the Brexit referendum (Andy voted in favour of the UK leaving the EU, while Maya was against it), quickly became independent, enrolled in English and Philosophy, found her first true love, and became politically active.
In his article Snowflake’s Emotional and Political Sensitivity, dramaturg Vili Ravnjak points out the following: “Maya returns to his father to set the record straight, to dispel the emotional blockage that has pilled up between the two after the death of Maya’s mother. Snowflake is a clear portrayal of how one’s intimate feelings and experience link to political convictions. One can say that Snowflake is an intimate emotional and socio-political drama in the sense of a comprehensive elucidation of a huge and almost unconquerable gap between the middle (also older) and the younger generation. In other words, the play is an exemplary model of situations, where even small personal dissonances (or one’s incapacity of processing emotional pain) resonate in greatly amplified and insurmountable generational and political gaps.”
In an interview with Marko Bratuš, director Jure Novak points out that “the staging heavily relies on the exceptional stage charisma of the cast, and the inherent value of Bartlett’s characters. /…/ The result expected is a collage of narrative structures, ranging from story-telling to stand-up comedy, testimony, and interview, that give way to a plethora of perspectives on the private life and intimacy, as well as the public and political sphere. I do hope, however, that we will also experience some human empathy, and at least ambivalent, if not unequivocally happy ending.”