“Up, up, up. Down, down, down.” This is just one of the many repetitions Alice Sylvester uses to build the time capsule that is How to Swim in Hollywood. Sylvester begins at a white vanity in a white nightgown with long blonde hair, immediately invoking images of Marilyn Monroe before her death. The slow, seemingly drunk Daisy recounts the childhood moments that made her into a housewife, whose only achievement is marrying a movie star.
Sylvester taps into every moden female insecurity in the most poetic and beautiful way imaginable.
Daisy describes her desperate desire to become a woman with such powerful images and metaphors that only make her disappointment more devastating. She is told she never has to worry because she is beautiful and her father influential. She is humiliated for not knowing something she has never been taught. She understands how her life revolves around men, and her base need to be with one in order to be a woman. Sylvester taps into every modern female insecurity in the most poetic and beautiful way imaginable. To understand the complexities surrounding womanhood, I strongly recommend How to Swim in Hollywood as the place to start.
The piece is pertinent given the #metoo movement’s strength, and its true beauty lies in Daisy’s understandings of consent and her recollections of her first sexual experiences. “It’s not rape,” she says, “it’s not rape,” when talking about the unpunished Roman Polanski. “I don’t know,” she says, “I don’t know,” when asked if she likes it. Such simple yet harrowing sentences mirror modern-day conversations around sexual violence, and Daisy’s slut-shaming of another woman is an unsettling reminder of society’s pervasive rape culture.
Sylvester is undoubtedly a star on the rise, unafraid to let her presence fill the silence. Such a command of the stage and of spoken word is evident from the beginning, and her almost childlike voice shows Daisy’s true vulnerability. All characters are played by Sylvester herself, and the seamless transitions between them provide a rude disturbance of Daisy’s thoughts. The sense of being overwhelmed by the views of others is perfectly realised by the metaphor of drowning, and Sylvester’s elegant movement brings swimming-pool memories to life. Her performance is entrancing, her words poetic, and her message is one that raises more questions than it answers.