Swallow is the first work to be staged by the recently established National Theatre of Parramatta. The production serves as a strong indication this company, in its infancy, will deliver on its intention to give its audiences bold and contemporary performance.
Written by Olivier Award-winning Scottish playwright, Stef Smith, Swallow is the story of three individuals who, through vastly varied circumstances, have been pushed to the brink of their existence. Anna (Luisa Hastings Edge) is agoraphobic and has been confined to her apartment for some time. Rebecca (Megan Drury) seethes over her ex-partner’s pursuit of a new life with another woman, and engages in self-harm. And Sam (Valerie Berry) struggles in his efforts to have the world see his true person, becoming the victim of a brutal transphobic attack.
While Swallow is initially bleak in its outlook, a sense of optimism ever so slowly begins to alter its tone as it draws towards its conclusion. The lives of these individuals become intertwined and although each has their own predicament to overcome, it appears that what they can offer one another is precisely what’s required in order to pull each of them back from the edge – to enable them to carry on confronting the challenges and complexities of modern life.
It’s a strong trio of actors that’s been charged with performing Smith’s work. Hastings Edge convinces as the recluse so stricken with fear of the world that the task of opening her front door seems so utterly unachievable. Hers is a successful portrayal of a character so totally divorced from reality, aided of course by good text.
Drury believably brings to life a woman completely consumed by anger and bitterness, desperate to hold on to some semblance of her former life. She’s a compelling presence throughout the piece and her various interactions with Anna and Sam afford her the opportunity to demonstrate a good emotional range.
Berry is both likeable and sympathetic as Sam. Unlike the other two characters, Smith gives the audience the opportunity to witness events responsible for her predicament. We feel for her, as she attempts to embark upon the ordinary activities of daily life hindered by the prejudices of others. Berry effectively engages the audience in Sam’s plight.
Throughout Swallow, each actor is, at times, required to switch abruptly from dialogue with another character to a narration role. Fortunately, each actor handles those switches with confidence and ease. Those moments don’t ever feel awkward or jarring.
Perhaps, the actors can enhance their impact further by injecting more emotional intensity into their characterisations. While each is already strong in portraying their respective roles, there’s still room to take performances up a notch and convey to audiences with, even greater clarity, the fact that each of these individuals stands – or feels that they stand – as close to the brink as one can.
As to the design aspects, Anna Tregloan’s simple white, grid-patterned wall fills the space, evoking a chillingly cold and clinical feel for the work from its outset. It feels appropriately reminiscent of the traditional image of a psychiatric facility. Projection technology is sparsely but appropriately incorporated.
Director Kate Champion (former artistic director of Force Majeure) has her players utilising the space effectively, their movement always being with purpose, and their interactions with each other generally feel organic. Only the choreography of Sam’s attack felt slightly laboured.
At 90 minutes, Swallow isn’t a bulky work but possibly lingers on about 10 minutes more than it should. That trimming could potentially make for a sharper and more impactful conclusion to a work that, by that point, already feels as though it’s examination of humanity has lucidly made the point Smith appears to want audiences to take away – that despite the lows we may reach and the despair into which we can fall, we possess the ability to pick up the pieces and carry on with our lives, and it’s very much a part of our nature to do so.
Swallow plays at the Lennox Theatre at Riverside Theatres, Parramatta until April 30. To purchase tickets, click here