SWALLOW Traverse, Edinburgh

ENJOY BEING A GIRL? UM, NOT REALLY…
Stef Smith’s new play – after her acclaimed debut with ROADKILL – is  skilfully written, elegantly performed, and curiously annoying.  It is a portmanteau compendium of young urban 21c female angst and self-harm .   There are three mainly soliloquizing, often antiphonal, occasionally interacting characters and a lighted panel which is sometimes a door. Director Orla O’Loughlin correctly describes it as “fragmentary, poetic, tonally diverse” and Smith herself cheerfully says that all of us wrestle with the “the chaos of deep dark hard things, behave badly, drink too much, sleep too little, punch walls”.

The risk she takes (and sometimes does temporarily evade) is that watching strangers have 85-minute nervous breakdowns, however beautifully scripted, can pall. The most determinedly loopy of the three, and mercifully the funniest, is Emily Wachter as Anna.   She has spent over a year shut in her top flat in her pants, starving herself to the point of death, making bird-feeders out of tampons and granola. She is now destroying mirrors , clothing and furniture (“God bless hammers!”) before moving on to rip up the floorboards. She actually is quite entertaining, her demented gung-ho busyness about her flat not unlike a dark version of the character Miranda Hart plays.   Or perhaps Bridget Jones gone tonto.

Wachter is  as usual, superb. But as it darkens into a somewhat tiresome intensity, Smith gives Anna one long self-absorbed riff about her guilt for everything from 9/11 to Auschwitz, whereon my compassion-fatigue went nuclear, provoking a reprehensible urge to slap the spoilt tilde kid for grandstanding on real misery. The author does at least feed in a line to indicate that someone is paying the rent for her solipsistic suicidal lifestyle, though the landlord is going to put in a stiff bill one day for those floorboards.

Downstairs – we learn – is where Rebecca lives (Anita Vettesse). Her husband has left her, provoking her to cut her own face open with broken glass, shout “Fuck off!” at the doctors treating it, and smash the telly (more hammer work, though the set is starkly bare and we must imagine it) . She gets repeatedly drunk, though in a passing moment of realism we learn that she does have a job, as “a paralegal”, which may explain why conveyancing always takes so long these days.
The third, most sympathetic and fully rounded character, is Samantha (Sharon Duncan-Brewster) who works in a care home and wants to change sex and live as Sam. Her/his gender dysphoria is the most convincing of the three problems; a disguised brief fling with Rebecca is properly affecting. So, in another interaction, is Rebecca’s attempt to find out through the letterbox what is wrong with her invisible neighbour . That it has taken her over a year to wonder about the crashing and smashing is, I suppose, part of the urban-alienation theme.

Anyway, Smith does allow us a redemptive ending,  thanks to the kind of visitation which only happens in this kind of play:   a possibly imaginary injured pelican who can fly through closed windows. Oh, and it snows, and something else sentimental happens in the ceiling too.

2 meece rating
http://www.edfringe.com to 30th August
rating two

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