Guillem Clua's The Swallow was created as a response to the LGBTQ+ shootings, playing out over a single evening. Daniel Perks watches this tale unfold:

The Swallow, unlike its namesake bird, is a play that does not migrate great distances, preferring instead to unfold over the course of a single, elongated scene at the house of strict, matronly singing teacher Emily (Jeryl Burgess). An unexpected visit from amateur singer Ray (David Luque), wishing to sing at the memorial service of a loved one, proves to be far more than its initial intention implies. Guillem Clua’s piece, written in reaction to the targeted shootings of LGBTQ+ groups over the past few years, is a slow-burner, too drawn out in an attempt to build atmosphere. Its intention is laudable, but its execution is sluggish.

The Swallow Cervantes Theatres

David Luque & Jeryl Burgess

Nico Casal’s compositions set the scene, mingling with Alejandro Andújar’s reserved, yet intricately detailed, set. There is a sadness that descends over Paula Paz’s production from the outset, a melancholy that wafts through the air and taints every perfectly placed object in this prim and proper abode. Paz takes The Swallow at an exceptionally slow pace – every action and reaction seems to have one beat too many in their implementation. We lose the narrative before it starts – the motivation for Ray (Luque) to seek out Emily is intriguing, but it doesn’t grip our attention as it all too gradually unfolds. Clua’s story stops and stalls because Paz has stretched it so far you can see the seams.

The actors seemingly pick up on this nervousness drudgery too – their opening performances lack complexity or finesse. Both are stubborn and each approach that in different ways, but there isn’t the cordial clashing of purposes that The Swallow needs to spark its genesis. Luque is earnest, Burgess strict, but neither are layered in this behaviour. Likeable, yes. Believable? Not enough. In the main, this is down to Paz’s pace, which demands too much of the actors – they aren’t given the speed they need to develop and as such they lose our attention.

The Swallow Cervantes Theatres

David Luque

As The Swallow progresses, the true reason behind Ray’s visit unfolds and it’s here that the design comes into its own. Suddenly those knick-knacks and objects that pristinely clutter the space have alternate meaning, snippets of memory for a life lost and a maternal relationship that never truly flourished. But still it feels contrived – Luque’s line slips start to increase their frequency and Burgess’ thought processes remain somewhat murky. As someone grieving, this is to be expected, but it doesn’t help in connecting the audience to the material. When each subsection begins, we can predict its repetitive narrative arc with confidence – Ray reveals something that hooks Emily in; there is a argument, a clashing of views, a revelation that shifts the dynamic; finally, there is a desperate plea for Ray to leave. And the cycle starts again, somewhat monotonous in its construction. The damage is felt most by the narrative material, which is poignant and powerfully painful. But we lose impact because we can see it all coming a mile off.

The Swallow Cervantes Theatres

David Luque

The Swallow has moments where everything clicks – you see the sorrow inside each performer and understand what Clua is consistently driving towards in his script. It’s a sensitive subject that is tenderly handled, slowly demolishing the wall brick by brick. We end on shared grief and a shared belief, a powerful energy that jointly emanates from the two characters. But after waiting for so long to reach this, we are left somewhat bemused and detached. The Swallow has travelled its distance, but it hasn’t taken us with it.

 

 

★★☆☆☆

The Swallow runs at Cervantes Theatre until 26 May 2018. For further information, please visit the venue website.