Swallow

★★★★
theatre review | Read in About 2 minutes
Published 11 Aug 2015

There’s Anna, cocooned in her flat, having ripped up the floorboards, not eating a morsel; Samantha, struggling, quietly, to transform herself into Sam, the man she feels she really is; and there’s Rebecca, with a self-inflicted scar on her face serving a constant reminder of an unexpected, agonising break up.

Stef Smith’s lyrical triptych is almost – almost – a companion piece to Chris Goode’s Men in the Cities, a big Traverse hit last year. Certainly, Orla O’Loughlin’s production references the same Robert Longo artwork. Between speeches, the three women settle into angular, twisted poses: bodies in a bomb blast perhaps, or caught mid-fit.

Swallow diagnoses the same urban atomisation and anomie. These women shut themselves off from the world, stewing in their own spaces, reflecting on their reflections. It’s by coming together, their scar tissue on show, that they coax each other out again.

True, Smith slips into sentimentality right at the end, and O’Loughlin indulges the writing with a pretty-pretty snowstorm, but mostly the poetry of the writing matches up to the physical poetry of bodies in space. It’s a slow, patient climb to something hopeful; a recovery narrative that chimes with the times.

Yet it’s really made by the performances: Emily Wachter’s chipper Anna, who somehow makes her healthy body spindly and angular; Anita Vettesse is earthy and humorous as Emil; and Sharon Duncan-Brewster, superb as Sam, finds a still, slack-shouldered confidence in her male gait.