The Day I Fried a Snake

“I saved my pocket money for three weeks. I didn’t buy anything. No comics, no crisps, no sweets. I went to a pet shop and bought this tiny green snake instead. A grass snake they called it. When I got home I played with the snake. It felt warm and soft. I was scared but I still had to hold it. I liked the way it wrapped itself round my fingers like an electric shoelace. And then…. then I realised. I could never keep it. Not as a pet. Where would it sleep? What would it eat? Where would it go when I went to school? It was a stupid thing to to buy. So I had to get rid of it. But how? All sorts of things occurred to me: flush it down the toilet, bury it, throw it from a tower block. But all the while another thought was taking shape. A thought so wonderful it seemed the only thing to do. So I got a frying pan and put it on the gas stove. I put a bit of butter in the pan and turned the gas up full. The fat started to crackle and smoke. I dropped the snake into the frying pan. It span round and round and its skin burst open like the skin of a sausage. It took ages to die. Its tiny mouth opened and closed and its black eyes exploded. But it was wonderful to watch.” – Presley’s monologue, from The Pitchfork Disney by Philip Ridley, 1991.

The piece you see above was both the best and worst thing I ever had to perform during my A-Level Drama course. I loved it because it was surreal and it gave everyone who ever heard it the shivers, but on the other hand it was also the closest I have ever come to suffering for my art. I never read Philip Ridley’s full play, so I can’t tell you about the context behind it, but I found this in a book of monologues for students and just knew immediately that it could be a winner. A large part of our grades for the course was due to come from our monologues – but unlike our previous end-of-year performances, to which we could invite anyone we liked, these would be given only to the rest of the class, our teacher and the visiting examiner. By this point, my class only actually consisted of a handful of other people, but I was glad of this when it came to choosing my piece as I knew I would have a smaller and more intimate group to try and unsettle. But how would I do this? I needed to gross them out in some way, and after a week or two of thought I knew exactly what to do. I needed to fry the snake in front of their eyes, leaving them open-mouthed and speechless in response…

OK, so frying an actual snake wouldn’t have gone down well with the examiner or the RSPCA, so instead I had to find what I’ll call a “stunt snake”. This came in the somewhat predictable form of a raw sausage, which would slide around in a real frying pan and be squashed and manipulated mercilessly in my fingers as though it were alive. Having taken a trip to Tesco so that I would have some bangers to hand, I made sure I had one on my person for rehearsals the next day – as well as a pan borrowed from the kitchen. Sure enough, my plan for the piece worked like a dream, even though I realised I was going to have a problem with raw sausage meat getting stuck underneath my fingernails. Even when I washed my hands vigorously after every run through, it wouldn’t always budge immediately – this is what I meant by suffering for my art. As time went by, however, this soon became a very small price to pay, because the end result was something I became immensely proud of. In just two minutes or so, I had the chance to perform something that would completely captivate its tiny audience – not because of me, but because it was sheer surrealism in the truest sense. For once, I couldn’t wait for exam day.

Now, let’s bypass all of the build-up to the big moment and cut directly to the chase. Imagine me there, with my lamp, frying pan and stunt snake ready on the table, being given the signal by the examiner to begin the monologue. What residual noise there was has now completely died away and I am now alone in my performance space, with only my meticulously-rehearsed lines in my head for company. They’ll never desert me, surely?

Wrong. For the first and only time in any Drama lesson, I drew a complete and total blank. I searched frantically for my opening lines, but there was only rolling tumbleweed for what seemed like a lifetime. It got to a point where I was sure I was only seconds away from being failed and ushered back into the audience – and it was then that the piece spluttered into life as I remembered what I was supposed to say. I sailed through the remaining dialogue with ease, but the silence at the beginning was still in my thoughts, overshadowing everything else. I was convinced that I had totally sabotaged my own A-Level grade, and that for my classmates, the teacher and the examiner, it was also the elephant in the room. The biggest surprise would be saved for last, however, when it transpired that nobody in the audience actually noticed I’d forgotten my lines, and that the examiner thought the resulting pause was for dramatic effect. I believe it actually ended up improving my mark slightly – but unfortunately it wasn’t enough to prevent my D overall…




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