Edinburgh Fringe 2015
Who said smashing things up was a bad thing?’ Balanced precariously on the tipping point, three strangers are about to face their demons head on. They might just be able to save one another if they can only overcome their urge to self-destruct. Painful yet playful, poignant but uplifting, this world premiere from Olivier Award-winning writer Stef Smith takes a long hard look at the extremes of everyday life. Questions of identity, heartbreak and hope are explored with vivid, poetic intensity.
Swallow is a lyrical yet down to earth play about three characters who are all on the cusp; transforming, crushingly lonely, and desiring change. Three intertwining monologues weave and wend their way together before crashing into connection and dialogue between these three fragile yet powerful people.
First we have Anna, played magnificently by Emily Wachter. Clad in a vest top and large grey underpants, she hasn’t left her house for two years, and is fervently busy with her projects, that include making mosaics out of her mirrors, and tearing up her floorboards to make a nest from which she can transform into a bird.
Her character is perhaps the most poetic of the three, and she is also the most humorous. She has a charming combination of awareness about who and what she is (a hermit who has not left her house for two years), and also an innocent denial, stating at one point that she ‘doesn’t have time to be mad.’ Wachter manages to capture this conflict perfectly, her sweet RP accent masking the turmoil of loneliness and confusion bubbling beneath the surface as she swings hammers at mirrors and runs and hides when the doorbell rings.
Sam is next, he is on the cusp of a transformation. Leaving behind Samantha and embodying the man he knows he is, the excitement and fear of this moment is palpably conveyed by Sharon Duncan-Brewster. Likeable and sweet, he navigates the pain of love when your body doesn’t match your brain. He too is lonely and grasping for companionship at any cost. The cruel realities of life on the streets as either a feminine man or a trans* man feature in Sam’s story, but it is the emotional pain of rejection and disgust that is the hardest to bear.
The last character is Rebecca, left by her husband, lonely, cracking up, extending the hand of friendship through the letterbox of the door upstairs, behind which lurks the starving, desperate Anna. It is through her connections with Anna and Sam that she may begin to heal, but she is brittle, and defended. Played by Anita Vettesse, the walls, both literal and metaphorical, that surround her are plain to see, and she comes across as very human, full of flaws and nuances.
The set is simple and effective, a few chairs and a light box that spins on an axis and changes colour to mark the different locations in the play. Sound effects are also used sparingly and with power, using definitive bangs to mark set changes and to highlight the character’s emotions.
Stef Smith’s script is poetic at times, but is also very clear, and the talent of the actors bring life and humanity to its words. The transformative power of love and connection is clearly demonstrated, and there are many moving moments throughout the play. This is a beautiful and subtle play. It is not trying to be different or clever, but is immensely powerful in its overwhelming message of the importance of love, friendship and connection between human beings.