SWALLOW

Tue 3rd – Sat 7th May 2016

reviews

Cameron Wallis

at 22:14 on 3rd May 2016

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SWALLOW might just be the best piece of student theatre you see this year. Incredibly touching at some moments, and outrageously funny at others, this play plates up a variety of complex, but altogether very palatable, flavours. Director, Avigail Tlalim, serves a refreshing play that feels important: as though it is saying something that other modern drama might just skip over.

With only three actors - all of whom are onstage the entire time - SWALLOW is very heavy on lines, however all of them do a superb job. Preferably, one would have three sets of eyes so that one could watch all of them at once: the fascinating structure of this play means that each of their plots unravels at the same time, each character saying only a few lines before one of the others juts in. The magic of the Corpus Playroom is that no one in the audience is more than a few metres from the actors; hence, every facial muscle twitched, and every jaw clenched, can readily be inspected.

SWALLOW links together three individuals in an engaging story about love, loneliness and feeling lost. Emma Corrin plays the seemingly schizophrenic ANNA so movingly that one quite falls in love with her. A social recluse seemingly abandoned by her brother, ANNA’s uncontrollable imagination traumatises her into a state of destructive self-loathing. In this play the characters occasionally narrate their own story in the third person, but what is fascinating about ANNA is that since she cannot separate fact from fiction herself, nor can we: and it is a tear-jerkingly beautiful turn of events when the pelican she so lovingly raises is actually real - when we in the audience have questioned whether or not it is perhaps all in her head. With her wide-eyed expressions and matter-of-fact tone, Corrin plays this role perfectly.

At this point, the lighting director Johnny King and set designer Jack Parham deserve special mention. The minimalistic, white set works very well with the dim lighting, and the sudden change to brighter lighting (at an important moment near the end of the play) is simple, yet extremely effective. There are only four props, but throughout the play they are used very creatively: an archway - usually acting as a doorway, but moved variously around the stage in a way that is insightful into a particular scene’s meaning - and three chairs - which partway through the play are imaginatively transformed into ANNA’s den.

Isla Cowan plays the ‘fond-of-a-drink’, heartbroken, desperately lonely REBECCA fantastically well. Hugely versatile, Cowan can be frightened, excited, crying, drunk and pensive in the blink of an eye, and her talents help make this play such a brilliant hotchpotch of genres. The confusion she feels about her feelings for SAM, played by Georgie Henley, are expressed incredibly well by the tiniest movements in her face - perfect for a cosy environment like the Playroom. Henley’s performance of the stoic, transgender SAM is flawless. Somehow her gorgeous smile can mean several things at once: loneliness and repression and passion. What is so incredible about these actors is their complete control over the mood. We do not notice how much the tension has risen in the theatre until these actors fall silent for a few seconds, in which the dropping of a pin could be heard.

If you need a break from revision or are moping around with your exams already done then going to see SWALLOW would be an excellent one hour break. It is easily digestible yet flavoursome enough to keep the mind’s palate working. I cannot flaw this play: it really is quite a privilege to watch.

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