In the run up to NAYD’s Young Critics Panel on Oct 5th as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival, we will be publishing a series of reviews from the Young Critics.
Over the summer months we asked the Young Critics to attend some shows in their own home venue. We asked them to make a short vlog review of the experience. We then asked a selection of them to turn these into written reviews. Dr. Karen Fricker offered some editorial advice.
First up, Sophie Quin reviews Swing
Swing by Steve Blount, Peter Daly, Gavin Kostick and Janet Moran, directed by Peter Daly
Performed by Steve Blount and Janet Moran
The Source Arts Centre, Thurles, County Tipperary, performance viewed on 26 June 2014
Review by Sophie Quin
“Is… Is this swing?”
And so from the first timid and engaging question put to the audience, Swing caught my attention as it danced into a familiar, yet new world. Not being a general admirer of dance shows (I find the lack of dialogue often compromises plot), I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised by what I found.
In a swing dance class May (Janet Moran) and Joe (Steve Blount) meet for the first time. Their lives have stalled and they can’t decide what to do next. The class offers them an escape from the ordinary, to move on from the past, and possibly to live their lives anew. Drawing on the familiar issues of recession, divorce, emigration, love, changing your mind, and the omnipresent risk of failure, Swing retained a deep-rooted and quintessentially Irish style, as it mixed the serious with the comical and used humour as a possible solution to life’s problems.
Throughout the class we’re introduced to an array of characters: moody dance instructors, terrorised beginners, old lovers, and veteran swing dancers, each bringing their own stories to the stage. The actors swop characters multiple times by yelling “change places,” often at awkward moments; with a gesture, voice or posture they become a different person before your eyes. At times the transitions were so rapid that it appeared that there were far more than two performers onstage. Each character retained their own personality, even if some were slightly stereotypical. For instance the “foreign girl” was definitely foreign, and it was obvious that another character was homosexual from the cliché way they spoke and moved. Yet this was easily carried and probably necessary since there was such a varied range of characters. Blount and Moran interpreted each character with great flair. The direction by Peter Daly ensured the performance was crisp and elegant, but could also incorporate the gut-wrenching awkwardness of an argument taken too far. The show was funny but not tactless: none of the gags were out of context.
Fishamble has once again shown that it is at the forefront of new playwriting in Ireland. Swing is part of the company’s Show in a Bag scheme, in which all props and costumes are required to be kept to a minimum so performances can be scaled up to fill a large venue, or down to fit into a small tightly-squeezed café. This economical design meant, in the case of Swing, that focus was on performance and not an overly distracting set, which consisted of two chairs, a bag, a bicycle helmet, water bottles, a disco ball, and the costumes.
Whether you interpret Swing as an analysis of who and what we are rihgt now in Ireland, or as a jovial comedy about ordinary lives and the beginnings of friendship, it is a play that showcases much that is exciting and innovative in performance today. When the disco ball flashed into life, reflecting across the venue, I too was swept up into this ordinary yet extraordinary world. If you get a chance swing along to see this great and effective piece of contemporary Irish theatre.
Sophie Quin is a member of Fracture Youth Theatre in Tipperary and an NAYD Young Critic for 2014