Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes, Park Theatre, review: ‘Big ideas in sharp script’

PUBLISHED: 12:00 01 April 2016

Yuriri Naka in Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes. Picture: Idil Sukan/Draw

Yuriri Naka in Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes. Picture: Idil Sukan/Draw

Image licensed for press and publicity usage for the sitter, dependent on the accreditation to the photographer: Idil Sukan/Draw

Daniel Everett is the kind of guy to scream and shout: ‘Alleluia’.

It is 1972: he is both missionary and linguist, preparing to go into the Amazon jungle to convert the Pirahã tribe.

He is advised by his sponsoring supervisor at Mission HQ that “they have to be made lost before they can be found”.

At first this feels like a Friday night faith youth club production: relentlessly optimistic, rictus smiles and lashings of frothy coffee afterwards.

But gradually you realise you are watching a very clever piece of storytelling with sophisticated stage craft.

The set is sparse with a few endlessly recycled props: a rope held at arm’s length by the cast catenaries, map like, into the course of the Amazon. Minutes later, it is the prow of a river boat.

In several laugh-out-loud scenes, Everett, played with a wonderful combination of thought and energy by Mark Arends, works to learn the Pirahã language and win the tribe’s souls.

Gradually he realises they have no concept of numbers or time – they live in a continual present (cue the rope to explain verb tenses), have a totally uninhibited attitude to sex (“Fancy a tug?”) and no word for worry. They have no creation myth and their grammar doesn’t allow for recursive discourse.

Everett must wonder if he’s stepped into a Garden of Eden.

These indicators lead him not only to question his own faith but also Noam Chomsky’s theories of language – what it is that separates us from beasts.

In a debate with an American linguist (played with a tour de force of fast talking and assured erudition by Rachel Henshaw), he argues about the concept of being human.

The ending is sad and, at only 90 minutes, the play is too short.

It deals in big ideas and room should have been found to better explore Everett’s loss of faith, and the tricky relationship between civilisation and people in the developing world.

A terrific play with a razor sharp script and fine acting. Prepare to pay attention.

Rating: 4/5 stars.

Latest Islington Entertainment Stories

Yesterday, 17:23

Indie favourites take their Good Humor LP out the garage and into the British Library for a live outing on its 20th anniversary

Wed, 17:06

It’s the season to get spooky, and an independent film festival celebrating the best of the horror genre is about to launch in Islington.

Wed, 14:53

Islington’s multifaceted landscape is at the centre of local photographer Richard Morrison’s latest exhibition.

Wed, 13:08

Stanley Underhill, one of 41 ‘Brothers’ at The Charterhouse, Islington, tells his fascinating story in Coming Out of the Black Country


Fostering older teenagers means giving them the skills for life as an adult. Here, a supportive lodgings carer with Islington Council and young adult who has left care share their stories

Newsletter Sign Up

Islington Gazette twice-weekly newsletter
Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Most read entertainment

Show Job Lists

Digital Edition


Enjoy the
Islington Gazette
e-edition today


Education and Training


Read the
Education and Training
e-edition today

Read Now