The Serpents Teeth – A peaceful reminder of the costs of war. (Theatre Review)

The Serpents Teeth

Hasemann, Ball & Radda Productions and bAKEHOUSE Theatre company

9 – 24 November. You can grab your tickets here.

Images: Clare Hawley

In recent days, French president Emmanuel Macron has called for an EU army to compliment NATO. He has been supported by the outgoing Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel who, in her declining political years is taking on a saint-like status (especially among women such as myself). It should be astounding to those of us on the left that two of our current political symbols of left/right/left moderation should be seeking to increase the army, but it calls forth the old paradox: If you want peace, you must prepare for war. Like every thinker I know I have been dealing with an anxiety since 2016 that stubbornly will not shift. While I am a pacifist, I do believe in fighting evil and defending certain principles in life. Would I go to war for my feminist principles? LGBTQI rights? To stop Hitler? Will I fight back when an attempt to annihilate me is present?

Emmanuel Macron wants to unite Europe. “Europe, and within it the Franco-German couple, have the obligation not to let the world slip into chaos and to guide it on the road to peace,” Macron told the German parliament. He said Europe must not “become a plaything of great powers, must assume greater responsibility for its security and its defence, and must not accept a subordinate role in world politics”. It all starts with a united European Army.[1] This is rhetoric that fills me with relief – I have to confess.

Daniel Keene explores this concept in The Serpent’s Teeth. We are presented, not with noble soldiers, wrapped in flags, buried in State funerals (although they are present) but with those records that are never properly kept by parties to the conflict, destroyed in the course of the war or never recorded. “Media reports, government accounts, military data and the analysis of historians and political scientists all play a role in establishing statistics for conflicts deaths. However, the fields of demography and epidemiology are better equipped to scientifically examine and describe the impacts of armed conflict on human population, especially studying impacts beyond mortality such as changes in fertility or migration.”[2] War begins to affect us the second it is mentioned. Its casualties are not restricted to the battlefield, and restricting casualties on the battlefields is only the start of dealing with the impact of war. Glamour is an essential component of a ‘successful’ war, and absent from conflicts such as civil battles and wars of state where the worlds primary powers have no strategic interest. As Daniel Keene makes clear in The Serpents Teeth, these conflicts are more commonly identified as humanitarian crises and the population is abandoned to pick up the pieces.

Include in this the ramifications of environmental degradation and its connection to increased immigration and civil unrest and we see a need for the true comprehension of the post-conflict stage which in its turn includes a well-rounded understanding of the impact that civil conflict has had on the society in the first place. As Daniel Keene properly understands, the true cost of all war is not begun and ended with the fire and cease fire of a gun. According to research, internal conflicts can be deadlier for a population than battle deaths. By positing his two plays, Citizens and Soldiers against each other, Daniel Keen’s audience becomes more aware of the profundity of wars impact, and the desperate problem of condensing information into a series of figures released in an article on the front page of a newspaper.

For this reason, KXT and Producers Hasemann, Ball and Radda have made a presentation that is remarkably pertinent to today’s news. While we read of a ‘peaceful’ Europe trying to unite itself against a common enemy (If Donald Trump is able to be this enemy for Europe it will undoubtedly be his greatest (anti) accomplishment) we can think of the assembled characters in The Serpents Teeth and ask ourselves what each of them would say to this maneuver. These people on the KXT stage are the real face of and the only authority on this idea. When Kristin Landon-Smith brings her marvelous cast to the stage, they represent more than each of us, they properly represent and reveal an absent conversation inside the glamourous rhetoric of war. As face after face, body after body move in and out of the room, we are confronted with an enormity, and the remarkable humanity that can’t help but reveal itself when conflict is taken out of statistics and rationality and imprinted upon the human body.

This then, is by far the richest and deepest impact of The Serpents Teeth. Its power does not lie in immaculate performances, flawless direction or the tightest script – although there are no real problems in any of these areas. Its power is in its remarkable seasonableness. This perfectly timed production can remind us what we are calling for when we ask Europe to unite against a hysterical United States, and call forth a second thought that still leads to action and offers our leaders better ideas. For where are they going to turn, if not to us?


[1] The Local: Macron tells German parliament European revival can prevent global ‘chaos.’

[2] Monitoring Trends in Global Combat: A New Dataset of Battle Deaths. Bethany Lacina and Nils Petter Gleditsch