Review: The Swell (Orange Tree Theatre)

A clever play by Isley Lynn about memories and relationships, The Swell is deceptively simple on the surface but deeply complex at its core.

Bel and Flo (Sophie Ward and Shuna Snow) live in seclusion. Bel has issues remembering things and seems anxious; Flo is measured, calm, and caring. A middle-aged couple, with the common shorthand of familiarity.

The script constantly intrigues and surprises, with twists and turns which are handled with such skill we hardly sense the pieces being fit together. This is superior female-led stagecraft.

Production photo for The Swell

As the young Bel (Ruby Crepin-Glyne), Flo (Jessica Clark) and Annie (Saroja-Lily Ratnavel) enjoy their friendship as they approach their thirties, we are privy to tender moments and conflicting feelings.

Having the younger selves observing the older and vice versa makes the drama stronger and the performances deeper. When conflict arrives in the person of Viss Elliot Safavi, the nerve centre of what drives Bel and Flo becomes more curious.

Director Hannah Hauer-King, designer Amy-Jane Cook, and lighting designer Elliot Griggs take us through the shifting time periods with ease. We know where we are, but not always why.

Production photo for The Swell

Each version of the women in The Swell is beautifully drawn and played, highlighting both who we were and who we become, and how memory might play tricks on what we want or need to remember.

The title of the play refers to many things: both within the body and within the waves. The versatile set suggests intimacy, socialising, and trauma with ease with just a few bits moved around, with a sparse use of surround sound (by composer Nichola T Chang) adding atmosphere and colour.

The Swell is a drama of beauty, elegance, love, and honesty. It isn’t all it seems to be, but it is a touching depiction of desire, disruption, and devotion. It is proudly queer without necessarily having to be.

It continues at the Orange Tree Theatre until 29 July: tickets here.

Image credit: Ali Wright