SWALLOW is a poignant, dynamic, and at points humorous production.
Sensitivity seems to be at the heart of this production – with producer Tom Bevan’s content advice available on the door, the audience is carefully welcomed into the lives of three strangers, each dealing their own life changing issues. A collection of filament lightbulbs gently flicker on stage as the audience fall into the inner thoughts of these three strangers, performed impeccably by Isla Cowen, Georgie Henley, and Emma Corrin.
The play punches into life with the spoken-word-poetryesque dialogue of the characters. The words, sentiments and narratives of the three characters overlap in the opening, which can only be described as a chaotic conglomeration of revelations. The eyes of the audience dart across the stage, from character to character, as they try to understand just who these characters might be.
The action calms once more when the lives of the characters begin to cross over — as Sam, played by Georgie Henley, and Rebecca, by Isla Cowen, meet in a coffee shop. The script is beautifully handled, with the present day narrative of Sam and Rebecca at first being interjected, but later becoming intertwined with the life of the reclusive Anna, Emma Corrin. She is locked away in her flat, building herself a nest in a lonely and desperate fight against mental illness.
Corrin’s Anna captured the hearts of the entire audience; the manner in which she and her lines dance around the stage with such agility is testament to her incredible skill as an actor, but also the freedom with which director Avigail Tlalim seems to have treated this production. No place is untouched on the Corpus stage — despite a minimalistic set of only three chairs, Tlalim’s direction ensures the stage is a constantly shifting scene, providing the actors with a space for dynamic performance.
Henley’s portrayal of the transgender Sam is thoughtful, moving, and wonderful to watch. Henley brings a fantastic balance to the stage, between Sam’s endearing and at times hysterical awkward flirting techniques, and their harrowing experiences with violent transphobia.
At times it felt like the production had a little more to give, and perhaps could have made greater use of sound or music- as during the dance scene, when the stage lit up in such a way the audience wished the music never ended. Jack Parham’s set design was subtle, minimalistic, and framed the play beautifully. Yet minimalist sets at the playroom seem to always fall just a little flat- perhaps owing more to the set up of the stage, and the awkward Corpus stage door than the efforts of set designers.
Steeped in emotion, SWALLOW beautifully tackles the vulnerability of these three strangers, and reflects to the audience their collective strength in the face of adversity- giving voices to the kinds of characters too often neglected by the world of theatre. SWALLOW is absolutely worth a watch, and at under an hour and fifteen minutes, is a perfectly timed break from revision.