Theatre: Snowflakes - taking trial by social media to the next level

A new play by Robert Boulton.

Theatre: Snowflakes - taking trial by social media to the next level

Written by Robert Boulton, Snowflakes explores the concept of Cancel Culture – questioning ideas of morality, revenge and justice in a world of meaningless outrage and trial by social media.

Snowflakes gives us the story of Marcus and Sarah – they work for a very special start-up. Marcus and Sarah do the job that so many people call out for in the comments section. They enable you to outsource your rage, disgust and vitriol. They may not based in a co-working space but they do have an app: Justice isn’t blind – it’s streamed to millions. Don’t forget to like, comment, subscribe!

Snowflakes is the debut play from Robert Boulton, and he also stars in the production. Also in the cast are Niamh Finlay and Henry Davis.

“My favourite stories have always been dark, twisted and morally dubious…” says Robert Boulton. “What that says about me as a person, God only knows. I want to make people laugh through the darkness – I don’t respond well to moral preaching or superiority and don’t expect an audience to. I hope Snowflakes is a relevant, if irreverent, riff on contemporary society – not just examining the problems we’re encountering now and where we might be going, but also asking where we want to be when and if we solve these problems. Then again, maybe not.”

Interview with Nat Graham

Nat Graham is the Assistant Director on the production. I caught up with Nat for a behind-the-scenes look at the production.

What was your initial reaction when first reading Snowflakes?

I actually watched the play before I read it. There was a pre-pandemic R&D performance a few years ago which I came to see before I was involved in the show.

I think my initial reaction when I saw it was surprise, because the script plays out in such a way that you think you know what the play is going to be, but then it twists in ways that are completely unexpected.

When I came to actually read the script, I went in thinking I knew what to expect, but again I found myself constantly surprised – not by the story itself this time, but by the intricacies of each character. No one is quite who you think they are, and no one character can be easily categorised or understood.

That level of complexity with each character was something that I was very excited to work with.

Have you ever been on the receiving end of social media outrage?

I haven’t. I can think of a few occasions where I could have exposed myself to that but I decided to walk away.

I did once have someone I didn’t know say something quite unpleasant in response to one of my tweets, and I remember feeling a real urge to engage with them. I composed a load of possible responses in my head and imagined the satisfaction I could get from destroying their argument, but in the end, I knew it was a bad idea.

I think social media is a great place for sharing resources and information, but it isn’t the place for meaningful debate. A complex social or political opinion, boiled down to 280 characters, is, in my opinion, a recipe for disaster. That’s why so many Twitter debates descend into insults being hurled back and forth, because when we approach people we disagree with, we need to be able to look them in the eye and listen to them if we want to make any meaningful progress.

This is one of the most fascinating aspects of the play – the exploration of what happens to humanity in a world where justice is done through clicks and soundbites. It’s a brilliantly terrifying premise.

Discussions about Cancel Culture often seem so absurd that they’re almost a self-parody. Was that a consideration that had to be navigated in bringing Snowflakes to the stage? Is it hard to make Cancel Culture funny?

It’s that absurdity which is where the real humour lies, and the play really leans into it. If there are elements of Cancel Culture that appear to parody themselves, that isn’t really a concern for us because it heightens the absurdity of this world, which makes the play funnier and darker simultaneously.

I wouldn’t say it’s particularly hard to make Cancel Culture funny. I think you can make anything funny if you want to, and the question isn’t so much ‘can I make a joke out of that?’ as ‘should I make a joke out of that?’.

I’d argue that Cancel Culture is fair game because when we laugh at it we’re not laughing at anyone’s expense, we’re laughing at an idea, which doesn’t hurt anyone but it may encourage us to think about our own relationship to that idea.

There’s a dystopian element to Snowflakes – would you describe it as a cautionary tale?

I’m not sure that I would, purely because the word ‘cautionary’ implies that there is a clear message or moral that everyone will pick up on, and one of the things I love most about this play is the fact that it doesn’t tell its audience what to think.

Most people will probably come to the play with pre-existing opinions about the subject matter, and I imagine that some audience members will walk away having had those opinions confirmed, whilst others may find their opinions are really questioned.

From my own point of view, the play confirms what I already thought about social media and Cancel Culture, but it does so in a way that is quite uncomfortable. I find a great deal of my own views being expressed by a character who I naturally wouldn’t choose to have any sympathy for. I find myself consistently agreeing with the argument put forward by someone that I really, really don’t want to like, and this forces me to look inwards and interrogate the way that I might naturally judge and categorise other people.

I hope our audience will experience a similar level of discomfort, but I think the nature of that discomfort will vary from person to person, and I really can’t wait to hear some of those responses.

What do you hope that people feel when watching Snowflakes?

I hope that Snowflakes will excite people, scare people and make them laugh. I want people to leave the theatre feeling more connected and open to each other than they felt when they came in.

To me, the play is an exploration of our shared humanity, and the consequences of allowing ourselves to forget about the humanity of others. I really want people to feel the weight of that.

More than anything, though, I hope people respond in ways that I hadn’t even considered.

Snowflakes will run at the Old Red Lion Theatre, London, from 28 September until 16 October