DramaFeaturedLondonReview

The Swell– Orange Tree Theatre, London

Reviewer: Chris Lilly

Writer: Isley Lynn

Director: Hannah Hauer-King

Which matters more? Passion that strikes like a bolt of lightning or affection that lasts forever? And which gets called ‘love’? Isley Lynn has written a play that thinks what things are called matters less than what they are. Names are fluid. They flow.

Two couples, separated by thirty-odd years, are each visited by a person from their past, and their relationships are tested, possibly to destruction. The six characters are all women, but the dilemmas are universal. And one of the older pair has experienced a stroke that renders her unable to name things. Names have become so fluid that they slip away.

The Swell uses the in-the-roundness of the Orange Tree to great effect. There’s a completely undefined raised platform with four wells in it (designed by Amy Jane Cook), and the characters stand, dance, sit, and hide in various combinations. The actors appear in the corners of the auditorium, they pace around the platform, they inhabit the space without limits, and they all move beautifully – more choreography than simple blocking, and great credit to Hannah Hauer-King for a compelling over-arching vision. Great credit, too, to director, actors, and composer Nicola T. Chang for a quite extraordinary, beautiful, haunting sound design incorporating taped music with live harmonies from the cast. A weird, otherworldly sound that gives context to the strangeness of the story.

While all six actors do a fine job, Jessica Clark’s wandering surfer spirit is so bouncy and energetic that she somewhat eclipses the others. This may be deliberate – her character is spoken of as someone they are delighted to see arrive, and happy to see go, and her role is to disrupt any status quo she comes across, but the result is a stage that positively buzzes when Clark is on it, and feels a bit subdued when she is not. This is a small quibble, though. Clark’s liveliness is something to be cherished.

A possibly larger quibble is the play’s treatment of the woman suffering the stroke. The effects of a brain injury are mined for their dramatic potential rather than their verisimilitude. The loss of connection that is often an effect of these cerebral events is crucial for the development of the plot, but perhaps presented rather too conveniently.

Quibbles aside, this is a play that is exploring passion and commitment rather than after-care for stroke-sufferers. That exploration is gripping and emotionally telling, beautifully depicted by a strong cast, and, whether a mental state is being conveniently tailored or not, it makes for a compelling dramatic conclusion.

Runs until 29 July 2023

The Reviews Hub Score

Compelling, confusing, compassionate

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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