I am rarely left speechless by a piece of theatre, but Isley Lynn’s new play, The Swell, is the sort of play that one makes exceptions for. It tells the story of three queer women, Annie, Bel and Flo, and their lives in youth and middle age, flashing back and forward as we understand how Bel and Flo became so isolated, and the mystery at the heart of their life together. As with any play with a mystery at its soul, it is hard for a review to do it justice; Lynn’s introduction to the playtext eschews talking about the script altogether because there are too many surprises to give away. The best description of the emotional effect of the play lies in the fact that I simply sat in the auditorium for minutes after the show had finished, still crying. Rarely does one come across a play that is not only so affecting, but is written with such heart and honesty.

Credit: Ali Wright

It is immensely satisfying to see a play where every element comes together so coherently. Director Hannah Hauer-King is perfectly in sync with Lynn’s writing, building, and releasing tension with real skill whilst working with a relatively still text and within a small space. Nicola T Chang’s use of sound throughout is subtle but vital to the play’s success; the use of breath to create tension matches the breaths that we did not realise we were holding. Amy Jane Cook’s set, in the meantime, is a raised platform which allows the still, seated moments of the text to be seen to their full effect, and the waters running deep beneath the platform are also incorporated into the scenes. An ensemble cast of six completes the show with fantastic performances; truly there is not a weak link among them.

Credit: Ali Wright

The star of the show, however, without a doubt, is Lynn, whose understanding of people is unparalleled, and whose writing is funny, moving and gutting all by degrees. This is a name that will surely be at the forefront of new British theatre for many years; the only thing I can do is urge you to see this play. There are few more powerful around.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Swell is on at Orange Tree Theatre until the 29th of July – tickets and info here!

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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