Isley Lynn’s play is a must watch for queer viewing this summer
BY ELEANOR NOYCE, IMAGE BY ORANGE TREE THEATRE
Seeing queer stories depicted on stage is always joyous. There’s something intimate about being part of a live audience, and something uniquely beautiful about gasping, laughing and crying in unison. Written by Isley Lynn and directed by Hannah Hauer-King, The Swell encapsulates every emotion possible – it’s essential queer viewing this summer.
A love triangle with a twist, the play spans 28 years. Annie and Bel have got engaged after a whirlwind romance and are planning for the wedding of their dreams. Having navigated a troublesome path, with Annie being bullied at school and Bel being rejected by her family after coming out, they’re both finally happy – or so it seems.
When Annie’s lifelong friend Flo turns up unexpectedly, the equilibrium is thrown off balance. On the surface, the pair have a good time together – they’re both gay, and they’ve so many memories together. But Flo has been off grid travelling for so long and has struggled to keep up with Annie, often disappearing and turning up without notice.
This time, she turns up a year before the wedding – having seemingly gotten her dates mixed up – and threatens to stay until the big day. Unsurprisingly, the trio slip into a dangerous love triangle – with a completely unexpected, gripping final twist that’s both shocking and heart-wrenching.
Flitting between the characters in their younger years (Jessica Clark, Ruby Crepin-Glyne, Saroja-Lily Ratnavel) and their older counterparts 28 years on (Viss Elliot Safavi, Sophie Ward, Shuna Snow), we see slowly see the ramifications of early events begin to unravel.Importantly, we see representation from an older queer couple navigating the ebbs and flows of domesticity together, something theatre audiences don’t often get to experience.
The play’s all-encompassing emotions are exacerbated by the staging, too: with a 360 set, it incorporates all angles and largely integrates with the audience. And from all four corners, the cast periodically sing and hum along to the backing music between scenes, giving an ominous feel.
But where The Swell truly excels is its depiction of complex characters. We’re constantly reminded that even the most well-intentioned people have flaws, and that everyone has secrets. All three characters (or six, including their older counterparts) we see on stage are immensely layered, and for all their loveable features, they have complexities – from Flo’s frustrating inability to commit to Annie’s somewhat unhealthy obsession with her work. We see Bel’s vulnerability as a character, too, nailed by both Ruby Crepin-Glyne and Sophie Ward.
Above all, The Swell plays with morality, with the audience constantly encouraged to reassess. Rather than point fingers at a “good guy” and a “bad guy”, we’re reminded that it’s possible – and largely human – to mess up.
Catch The Swell at Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond until 29 July 2023. Want to grab your ticket? Visit orangetreetheatre.co.uk.
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