NNT have kicked off their in house season this semester with Swallow, a three-character play exploring some of the deep-rooted issues of contemporary life. Written by Stef Smith, this script is honest, thought-provoking and powerful. Director Ted Marriott and producer Rosa Morgan have done a brilliant job of bringing the play to life in its full glory.
The plot is based on the lives of three individuals: Anna (Lucy Chandler), Rebecca (Emily Wightman) and Sam (Charlotte Sanders) and the psychological trauma they face. Anna suffers from agoraphobia, she hasn’t left her house for months and instead endeavours upon a project of smashing up her flat bit by bit. Rebecca is struggling to cope with her anger and frustration after the separation from her long-term partner. Whereas Sam is coming to terms with his identity and longing to transition to become the man he knows himself to be.
“The team have maturely and sensitively dealt with some difficult themes”
All three of these characters have something in common: they are desperately lonely and seeking to pursue a better life. Gradually the group form an unlikely, yet endearing friendship, leading to a process of both recovery and self-discovery. The team have maturely and sensitively dealt with some difficult themes, including mental illness, grief, violence and discrimination. This is the first time that a transgender character has been played at the New Theatre, and actress Charlotte Sanders was fantastic in her role as Sam.
Each of the cast members’ delivery was highly moving and convincing, but for me the stand-out performance was from Lucy Chandler. She fully embraced the character of Anna, who was at times hilarious, but also often gripping and emotional. The whole experience as a spectator was immersive and engaging.
There was some audience interaction, particularly at the start of the performance, however I would have liked to see more of this throughout. Without giving too much away, one scene that I thought was portrayed particularly well was Sam’s fight scene, where red flashing lights were used to present violence.
“Voice-overs also helped to portray messages”
With a thrust stage and all white background, the set was fairly simple but effective. I especially liked the music choices, with modern pop music fitting the tone. The use of voice-overs also helped to portray messages sent between characters, and the internal thoughts of the three figures.
The lighting and technical aspects of the play were ambitious, despite this, they were pulled off well. A whitewash was contrasted with multicoloured flashing lights, spotlights and strobe lighting to highlight certain features of the stage. Although at times I found the lighting jarring, I suspect that this effect was intended. I thought the use of projections against the white background was clever and innovative, depicting aspects such as TV screens and flashbacks that otherwise would have been hard to display on stage.
“It’s true that this play will not be to everyone’s taste”
As for the ending, it was uplifting and showed a glimmer of hope, without being cliched or oversimplifying problems faced by the characters. It’s true that this play will not be to everyone’s taste, but that does not draw away from its many triumphs.
Swallow has a poignant and very relevant message about how we view mental health as a society and, as reflected in the title, how we tend to bottle up or ‘swallow’ our emotions rather than communicating them. For that reason, it is definitely worth seeing.
Overall, the team have produced a play that is honest and raw, with emotional highs and lows for the characters and audience members alike. They have been guided by the LGBTQ+ community, the local trans community and Student Minds to put together a show that is representative of many different groups. I look forward to seeing what else NNT has to offer this term.
Image courtesy of NNT Facebook Page.