Production photography by Amanda James.
Dark, challenging and disturbing this premiere production by the new National Theatre of Parramatta is superb, and opens the Company’s first season magnificently.
Scottish Stef Smith’s nightmarish yet sometime driftingly dreamlike play is given a riveting performance by the terrific cast of three.
The script is witty, poignant, haunting and replete with a jagged lyricism.
Each of the three characters- Anna, Rebecca and Sam- at times act as narrator and commentator; their individual voices sometimes overlapping to create an intense, powerful and hypnotic performance. We learn of their stories of abuse, phobias and ‘otherness’. The play is a lot to do with self analysis and reflection.
The set, when we enter, is clean, cold, white and more than a touch disturbing.
Verity Hampson’s striking lighting design, and the use of projections, including text messages and images of startled birds, is very effective, as is the eerie use of shadows at certain points in the performance.
Max Lyandvert’s score rumbles, throbs and pulsates where appropriate. At other times there is a ‘you could hear a pin drop’ kind of silence.
Kate Champion brilliantly directs and choreographs the production.
Valerie Berry gives a magnificent performance as the uptight, repressed Sam who hides a big secret – she feels like she is a man trapped in a woman’s body and struggles for self acceptance.
We see the gradual, rocky development development of her relationship with Rebecca.
The horrific ‘gay bashing ‘ of Sam was brilliantly handled, in a quite stylized way, and featured a powerful use of torches.
Megan Drury plays Rebecca, Anna’s neighbour, who works as a well dresses paralegal in an ochre coloured skirt and dark coloured top, tights and boots.
Rebecca drinks way too much because she has been dumped by her husband for someone else and seems to be spiraling into a vicious circle of self harm. She is completely thrown when Sam reveals her big secret but is eventually, tentatively won back.
Luisa Hastings Edge gives a compelling performance as Rebecca’s damaged and hallucinating neighbour, Ana. Two years ago some mysterious event happened when Anna missed the bus for work and she has not been outside her flat since.
An agoraphobic misanthrope, on a starvation diet , Anna ends up almost destroying her apartment – parts have already been smashed , the floorboards are probably next … Anna also has an odd affinity for birds – hence the play’s title…
Anna also unearths a huge, spiraling mass of wonderfully textured cloth – some of her collages of feathers and basil pesto? Dust from her destruction of the apartment? The uneasy coils of her mind ? Anna, at another point, cocoons herself in dirty bedding.
The work develop from a bruising darkness to what is hopefully a gentler place of recognition and understanding. Themes of heartbreak, hope and identity are poetically explored.
The trio’s shared states of defiance and vulnerability interweave their fates and influence each other’s ability to re-enter the outside world.
All three are trapped behind the just visible lines of the wires suspended across the stage. Everything catapults towards a soaring, tragically hopeful ending where everything is resolved – or is it?!
Performance time 90 minutes without interval.
SWALLOW is playing at the Lennox Theatre, Riverside Theatres, Parramatta until Saturday April 30.