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BWW Review: SWALLOW Peeks Into Three Lives As They Struggle To Cope With Fear, Pain And Isolation.

Friday 22nd April 2016, 7:30pm, Lennox Theatre, Riverside Theatres Parramatta

Stef Smith's SWALLOW is a confronting examination of the physical manifestation of human emotions as three women deal with life, loss, isolation and identity. The 90 minute, one act, three hander play combines poetry and physicality to show how these seemingly diverse individuals cope with the challenges that life has thrown them.

Set and Costume Designer Anna Tregloan has created an asymmetrical space of institutional white squares. The cut corner space with a variety of boxes and platforms allows for different 'spaces' for each character to inhabit and adds a variety of depth and height to the staging. Clear nylon strung across the stage catches the light like lazerbeam security and serves to trap the characters within their world.

Director Kate Champion presents the work with the actors in situ, already enclosed with their problems, as the audience files in. As Max Lyandvert's soundscape of surges of wind creates waves of sound, Verity Hampson's lighting focuses on each character in turn, giving a glimpse into the torment they are fighting. Young woman in casual street clothes of skirt, top, tights and boots is shaking her head in denial. Another, with closely cropped hair, is seen taping her chest before redressing in masculine office attire. The third, in t-shirt and underpants, standing atop a raised dias wields a claw hammer. The waves of wind morph into pulsating electronic sound beats in time with the light illuminating the wires.

Luisa Hastings Edge as Anna and Megan Drury as Rebecca (Photo: Amanda James)

Megan Drury presents Rebecca, the young woman, recounting what appears to be a date with a past love. At first she seems relatively normal, expressing the fears many people may have felt but it unfolds that the man she is waiting for, Christopher, in more than an ex-boyfriend and we go on to see how she copes with the betrayal, loneliness and heartbreak. With clarity, Drury presents direct Rebecca's thoughts direct to the audience, drawing them in with eye contact. Champion utilizes symbolism to represent the Rebecca's spiral into destructive behavior.

Valerie Berry as Sam (Photo: Amanda James)

Similarly, Sam, played by Valerie Berry, tells his/her story direct to the audience with a calm thought out plan of how she will transform herself into the persona she feels she really is, a man trapped in a woman's body. Berry gives Sam a quiet, calm, gentle sensitivity as she sees Rebecca is harboring a silent grief as she/he tries to connect in the café where they have lunch.

Luisa Hastings Edge as Anna (photo: Amanda James)

Whilst Sam and Rebecca are presented as more mobile within the space, Anna, portrayed by Luisa Hastings Edge, is confined to the space of her central box, symbolic of the apartment that she hasn't left in months. Hastings Edge captures the increasing madness that consumes Anna as she evolves from what seems to be an eccentric artist to a woman possessed with the need to find peace and comfort. As Anna destroys her belongings and starves herself in a quest to find purity, the isolation and neuroses are expressed with a violent physicality and fear of the world beyond her front door.

Champion presents Smith's poetry filled text with a pointed use of silence to reinforce the gravity of the feelings the trio are experiencing. There is a rhythmic cadence as the three characters express themselves in parallel scenes, repeating words and phrases unique to their own situation that combine to express the fear, pain and isolation closing in on them. There is a focus on physical expression of emotion and anger, taken out on Tregloan's set, lit from within to highlight the breakthroughs in release the characters feel whilst expressing the characters' ability to challenge the world that traps them.

SWALLOW is a poignant work that shines a spotlight on three of the psychological challenges that people can face, albeit presented in some cases at their extreme in some cases. Sam's desire to be accepted for who they feel they really are, and the treatment they experience, both from someone they considered a friend and from strangers is a topical point in a society that is currently debating the treatment and protection of those not comfortable with the gender they've been born with. Rebecca's self-destructive response to the betrayal and lost dreams as she sees another woman live the life she expected to have may be an extreme, prolonged response but is potentially more relatable to a wider audience than Anna and Sam's experiences. The most complex of the three situations, Anna's isolation and descent into madness seeks to highlight how easy it is for someone to be forgotten and missed as even when she throws garbage out her fourth floor window, no one seems to care.

SWALLOW is a complex, thought provoking play, presented with sensitivity, a degree of humour without mocking the experiences, and unique design. This combines to indicate that the National Theatre of Parramatta, of which SWALLOW is their first production, will seek to try new things and present a contemporary expression of the broader community.


National Theatre of Parramatta

Lennox - Riverside Theatre, Parramatta

21 - 30 April 2016

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