Swivelhead (4 stars)

This article is from 2016


credit: Steve Tanner

Ambitious, hugely powerful play on modern warfare and a man turning into an owl

RAF drone commander Paddy Atkinson-Ward is a military man of the old school. He races vintage cars, jokes about dogging, and takes young recruit Callum under his tally-ho protective wing, passing the time with bawdy chit-chat while directing drone strikes against unidentified Middle Eastern insurgents. Until he starts turning into an owl.

Last year, Cornwall's Pipeline Theatre brought a fully functioning robot to the Fringe as a central character in their poignant love story Spillikin. This year's show has expanded, with an elaborate set, and an equally ambitious tale – with a far harder edge.

And although Swivelhead's plot devices don't always ring true, this is a bold, hugely enjoyable piece of theatre that wouldn't be out of place on any of the city's main stages. Its broad-ranging themes – family love, warfare, old versus new military values, and, of course, terrorism – are conveyed nimbly in writer and director Jon Welch's sparkling, funny dialogue. Ben Dyson as Paddy has plenty of memorable one-liners, while still convincingly charting his character's descent into despair.

Juliet Welch is tender as his sister Hattie, and Lewis Howard gives a superbly nuanced, considered performance as young recruit Callum. This is serious, thought-provoking stuff that sets its sights high, and scores a direct hit.

Pleasance Courtyard, until 29 Aug (not 15), 3.10pm, £8–£10 (£7–£9).


  • 4 stars

Pipeline Theatre Company Paddy used to fly Typhoons, till he got a dicky neck. Now he’s a drone pilot, with a new recruit to torment. But all is not well. Holed up in his old family tree house the night before his sister’s wedding, he realises something impossible: for the last few months he’s been turning into an owl.