Aug 10 2015 | By More

✭✭✭✭✩    Human

Traverse Theatre (Venue 15): Fri 7 – Sun 30 Aug 2015

There is a strongly beating human heart behind the Traverse Theatre Company’s Swallow. The cleverly staged production from a largely female team has a spiky exterior hiding a warm and resonant core.

Stef Smith’s script features three characters who feel varying degrees of fury and fear towards the world at large. Anna has retreated into her flat and stopped eating; her neighbour Rebecca reacts to the messy end of a relationship with alcohol and self-harm, while Sam struggles with traditional gender roles.

Emily Wachter, Sharon Duncan-Brewster and Anita Vettesse. Photo: Mihaela Bodlovic

Emily Wachter, Sharon Duncan-Brewster and Anita Vettesse. Photo: Mihaela Bodlovic

On a largely bare stage, the three characters’ stories unfold as their paths intersect. The language is spare and poetic, with the rhythm of the speeches ebbing and flowing, cleverly underscored by Danny Krass’s sound design.

Fred Meller’s elegant minimalist design is well used by director Orla O’Loughlin. What is particularly impressive about the staging is the way that movement is used to reinforce the characters’ inner lives externally, in a way that many productions seem to think is easily done until it is actually tried and comes horribly unstuck.

That certainly does not happen here, with an easy fluidity that is helped by Philip Gladwell’s lighting. Krass’s haunting sound, aided by LAWholt’s music, adds to a carefully considered, organic whole. There is also some choreography by White and Givan that is all the more effective for being sparingly used.

The cast are uniformly strong. Sharon Duncan-Brewster’s Sam perfectly captures a character caught between extremes, wishing to leave behind the expectations people have of ‘Samantha’ without surrendering to exaggerated maleness and all that entails. Emily Wachter (Anna) and Anita Vettesse (Rebecca) are both scarily brittle, displaying loneliness and vulnerability, eking out small moments of humour without ever lapsing into caricature.

strong emotional effect

There is something artificial about the way the structure plays out, however, and the way it is all resolved is just a shade too pat and verging on the sentimental, not helped by a somewhat obvious staging effect towards the end.

Emily Wachter & Anita Vittesse Photo: Mihaela Bodlovic

Emily Wachter & Anita Vittesse Photo: Mihaela Bodlovic

This does not detract from the strong emotional effect of the production, one that comes very close to achieving the universal resonance from specific situations that some of the very best theatre can achieve.

It would be unfortunate, therefore, if some of the publicity stressing ‘demons’ and ‘self destruction’ puts off some sections of a potential audience wary of an abrasive, violent affair. At its heart, beneath the starkness and the plangent electronics, this is a warm, almost sweet, strangely old-fashioned tale of the necessity of human connection. There are certainly some people too uncomfortable with their own identities to empathise with these characters’ situations, but otherwise their struggles will have a huge appeal.

Running time 1 hour 20 minutes
Traverse Theatre (Venue 15) 10 Cambridge Street, EH1 2ED
Friday 7 – Sunday 30 August 2015
Daily  (not Mondays), times vary
Book tickets on the EdFringe website: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/swallow
Traverse website: http://www.traverse.co.uk/

Buy the script from Amazon:


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