A gorgeous, troubling play that sticks in the throat.
“We’re barely alive…but we’re alive.”
SWALLOW is difficult. It’s the kind of play where you walk out afterwards feeling like you want to cut all your hair off or eat a punnet of blueberries; it penetrates so deeply into the core of what it is to be alive and in pain that you leave feeling a little unsettled, like the play has reached into your brain and rattled it. It earns its caps-locked title.
Birdlike Anna hasn’t left her flat in months – she’s stopped eating, she’s broken all the mirrors, and yet nothing is getting simpler. Rebecca is on her third glass of wine; reeling, bitter and fragile, drinking helps her cope. And Sam wants to start over, wants to forget, but the world seems determined to make him remember. The three characters are brilliantly staged in a blank, whitewashed space with a few chairs and a doorway, which are fluidly repositioned throughout the production to divide the three and, at other turns, bring them together. Each character has their own distinct story, but the best parts of SWALLOW often occur where the stories intersect.
The play is very recent – it was first performed at the Edinburgh Festival last year – and reception was extremely positive at its debut. I have a few misgivings about the script itself, mainly the ending being somewhat heavy-handed, but to an extent that’s out of the Fletcher Players’ control. The things that are within their control, acting and staging, are both beautifully done.
All three performers do justice to the subtlety of the writing; Emma Corrin is a particular standout, mesmerising as the agitated, fluttering, disturbingly obsessive Anna. The role is the most difficult of the three to get right and the funniest lines of the show come from her (and at points the play is extremely funny). Isla Cowan’s Rebecca is stylishly done, and we never stop empathising with her, even in points where she turns from us. Sam (Georgie Henley) at times veers towards being too caricatured, but at other times there’s a real purity in Henley’s performance, the smile and the lowered gaze, the simple anger and bewilderment. There’s a purity in the whole show, as well – things aren’t neatly tied up, problems aren’t completely solved, the characters go on living when the play is over. That aspect of it makes it truly real.
A short and explosive show; technically accomplished, vivid and deeply important.