Stef Smith’s dark but sparkling three-hander
This article is from 2015.
“Who said smashing things up was a bad thing?” asks Anna, at the beginning of Stef Smith’s remarkable new play which heads up the Traverse’s Fringe season. She goes on to smash most of the things in her flat, starting with the mirrors. Her downstairs neighbour, Rebecca, does some smashing too when she discovers her ex, instead of planning a reunion, has found a new love. And Sam? Well, she’s in the process of smashing up who she is and remaking herself, leaving Samantha behind.
Swallow, directed by the Traverse’s Orla O’Loughlin, plunges its audience into the lonely heart of modern life, where neighbours overhear one another’s lives for years but never exchange a word. Conversations – when they do happen – take place as often through a letter box, by text message, or through a building’s entryphone as they do face to face. Often, characters simply speak directly to the audience, as if they trust us more than they do one other.
Smith, who won an Olivier Award in 2012 for Roadkill, written when she was a new graduate, has gone from strength to strength as a writer in a few short years. She is still not yet 30, but Swallow proves that she is more than ready for the Traverse main stage. Her writing sparkles with delicate observations, inventiveness and empathy.
The three women, beautifully played by Anita Vettesse, Sharon Duncan-Brewster and Emily Wachter, inhabit a hostile world. Anna hasn’t left her flat in nearly two years; Sam emerges as her new self only to face the most savage of prejudices. Yet the play remains deeply optimistic about the possibilities of connection between individuals, however damaged. Swallow is not afraid of going to dark places, but it takes something from Leonard Cohen’s maxim: the cracks let in the light.
Traverse, 228 1404, until 30 Aug (not 17, 24), times vary, £20 (£15).