Swallowed was a student production that premiered on the 4th February at the Lakeside Theatre. Here is Tom Jervis’ review of the play.
We live in a world so interconnected that another person is just a fingertip away through our avid use of the internet, social media and smartphones. Yet, it is seldom mentioned that many young people do suffer from loneliness and allow it to consume them in their day to day lives. This is what Swallowed, written and performed by Ruby Barry and Rio Montana Topley, seeks to explore and uncover.
Both writers spoke through their own past experiences to create a piece that was as artistic as it was real. As soon as Barry spoke to the audience, her infectiously kooky mannerisms and stage presence created an immediate sense of charm and relatability. All the while, Topley’s reserved approach and excellent comic timing brought more and more warmth the more you got to know and understand her. Whilst vastly distinct from one another – the two equally gave performances that the audience were able to fall in love with.
Hinging on the concept of loneliness being akin to having been “swallowed by a whale”, the production ingeniously adopts various forms of physical theatre to reflect this semantic field. From shining a torch through a bedsheet in the dark to imitate being trapped in the stomach of a whale, to literal walls separating the two characters, to fluid movement and gestures that mimicked the liquidity of water – rarely was there a moment where the sheer artistry of both actors didn’t shine.
Some of the most charming moments were brought about by segments of actuality and exchanges between the two friends. Comedic value was definitely found within their mundane and awkward conversations, such as about how one longs “to be a crisp”. Cringeworthy dancing in the nightclub and belting out solo karaoke sessions all added to the pair’s depth and likeability.
Yet, the shift in tone brought by Barry as she bitterly spoke of how tiring loneliness is, cut through the audience like a knife. As one of the most notable moments, this starkly juxtaposed the lighter tones found elsewhere and truly embedded the effect that being lonesome can have. The honest nature of the play and its characters remained true throughout which made moments such as this all the more poignant.
Scarcely does a play achieve what Swallowed does. Not only is it an accomplished piece of theatre, Swallowed can also be deemed a session of therapy to those watching. It conveys a message of hope and understanding for young people whom may feel like there is no escape and have no one to turn to. Crucially however, it understands and respects that loneliness can appear from all situations and all walks of life and does so in such a graceful and admirable way.