Saturday, 3 March 2018

“Swallow” by Stef Smith
New Theatre, Nottingham
Stef Smith's Swallow is a powerful and emotive play about three women dealing with psychological trauma, and striving for a fresh start in life. It was first performed at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, on 9 August 2015 as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, where it received a Scotsman Fringe First Award.
The play surrounds three female characters, Anna, Rebecca and Sam and how they become entwined in each other's lives and personal issues.
Anna hasn’t left home for months; she has stopped eating solid foods and is smashing her flat up bit by bit.
Rebecca is so furious that her ex-partner has found a new love that she turns that anger on herself.
Sam is taking her first steps towards becoming the man she feels herself to be; in doing so, she exposes herself not only to abuse but to the chance of genuine warmth and affection.
There are many reasons why I love the New Theatre, and one of them is their choice of plays for their season. Among plays I have seen before there is always the majority of plays that I have not even heard of, never mind seen. This is one such play and I always feel like it's an education whenever I visit.
Lucy Chandler (Anna) creates the image of a woman on the edge who has not ventured out of her front door since she missed a bus. Her eyes are darkly ringed and her speech is slowed, probably through lack of sleep. Anna is the most "damaged" of the three and Lucy's performance is at times wonderfully spaced out. Anna provided one of the most poignant moments though when she did eventually venture out and stood in the snow to call her brother on the phone to ask for food.
Emily Wightman (Rebecca) makes her NNT debut. She was the last to join the cast but her skills in making us believe her rejection from her boyfriend triggered the breakdown were to be applauded. Great change of emotion from pure anger and self harm to empathy and love for Sam, which eventually led to a greater understanding of Sam's emotional position as well as her own and Anna's as all three of their lives merged.
Charlotte Sanders (Sam), for me had the most taxing of roles, second (only just), to Lucy's. Unless you're going through what Sam was going through, you would have no concept of the frustration and anger she felt. Samantha so wanted to be Sam and the hostility, violence and .misunderstanding shown towards her was sickening. A massive amount of research went into getting this role right, and it worked as you feel sympathy for the character. Maybe "sympathy" is not the right word but I for one just wanted to give Sam a hug.
Three superb actors who have all done their research on their particular characters and turned in amazing, believable and emotional performances.
Directed by Edward Marriott, he made sure that the three emotional, yet at times funny monologues were presented in just the right light. Presented to an audience on three sides, this was a brave decision, and every director will have their own ideas of how their piece of theatre is presented. For example, if I had directed it maybe I would have had the three characters stood facing the audience with just stark spotlights to highlight their speeches at the start.
Ted's choice of how to present this definitely had impact and after all, there's no right or wrong way to present speeches like this as long as the points and impacts are made, and they were. Having seen Ted act in several plays at NNT, I know he has the experience to use from an actor's point of view to bring to his role of Director.
While I was on the subject of lighting, the design of the lighting for this show was excellent, so Ian Webster, take a pat on the back for your design. The sound design for the play, by Adam Frankland, also added to the intensity of the characters and storyline.
The script is hard hitting but I felt that there were at times, nervous laughter from the crowd, I couldn't see the funny side of Anna throwing all of her food out of the window, unseen by anyone. At other times the script was peppered with some wonderful comic observations from a female point of view. This was needed because the stories of the three would have been too deep and dark without the dancing from Sam and the nonchalant revelations from Anna.
It's a brilliant start to the new season, and from past experience over the last few years, I know that the rest of the season is going to be just as strong as their opening gambit, and I am so looking forward to it.

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