28
May
17

Swallow

 

Swallow

Metro Arts & E.G.

Metro Arts Sue Benner Theatre

May 25 – June 3 2017

Reviewed by Stephanie Fitz-Henry & Elanora Ginardi

Who said smashing things up was a bad thing?

 

The fragility and abrasiveness of the human condition is reflected in the glass themes of Stef Smith’s award winning play SWALLOW.

Swallow is vast in the complex themes it explores; ideas about mental health, broken relationships, gender equality, transgender, happiness and acceptance.

A bird flies away, shattered glass lies everywhere, and a door is almost closed. None of these things are particularly important in and of themselves, but I guess we have to start somewhere in describing this outburst by Steff Smith.

The simple art of the stage design – the door, the shattered glass – symbolises the fragile lives of these three characters, discovering in their journey the need to be loved and accepted.

Swallow explores the chaotic ways in which three women continue to survive in the face of psychological and emotional suffering. Each character begins in isolation, disconnected from each other and the rest of society. In their struggle through darkness and confusion they occasionally find a glimmer of hope to keep them going.

Anna (Elise Greig) hasn’t stepped outside of her apartment for two years and is smashing her way through all of her belongings until there is nothing left. 

Rebecca (Julie Cotterell) lives a lonely existence after being dumped by her fiancé, and spends her time drinking away the pain and her physical and emotional scars.

Sam (Helen O’Leary) craves genuine connection and acceptance in the world as a man trapped inside a woman’s body.

The play is raw and challenging for audiences who need to use their imaginations and work a little harder to form their own ideas of what is happening. The experience is a personal one for each audience member. As the play commences, the characters articulate every thought and action in real time. They tell us because they have no one else to tell. They move and speak in isolation as they deliver their fragmented stories. They move around the stage until their paths cross at a point where connection and change is possible. Much of the action occurs downstage, in close proximity to the audience, creating a confronting space. The performances are very physical within bodies and within the performance space, particularly the performances of Greig and O’Leary. Each character’s body is an extension of their minds. Greig gives an engaging and convincing performance as the unstable Anna.

The performances are enhanced by Tony Byrne’s intelligent and perceptive sounds. The narrative told by the soundscape informs the audience and taps into the human psyche.

The minimalist set (concept by Kate Shearer, realised by Jo Grieg & Michael Jones) contains barricades of bundles of timber and broken glass of various sizes around the edges of the stage. These boundaries of desperation surround a raised platform with an illuminated door turned at a 45-degree angle to the audience. There is a strong sense of apprehension, after having ventured into a difficult and unpleasant place, somewhere none of us really want to be, but curiosity kicks in when we get an opportunity to gaze through windows into the lives of others.

The shattered mirrored glass, the rearrangement of the broken glass, the bird, and the closed door. The snow flakes, which are actual bird feathers…  

There is beauty in the grotesque and of the physical interpretation of the characters.

Smith’s text is poetic and her characters are complex and despairing. There is warmth and humour, despite moments of awkwardness.

The play moves through spaces of light and dark, humour and pain, loneliness and connection, courage and vulnerability. The choice to bring the work of an independent writer from overseas to Brisbane audiences is a credit to producers, Elise Grieg and Metro Arts.

Directed by Kate Shearer, Swallow is anchored by the commitment of three well-accomplished Brisbane performers, courageous and vulnerable. It hits as hard as it can hit with its harsh truth of human barriers, and the difficulty to break through them and be accepted.

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