Puppetry, shadow theatre, mime and music all contribute to this charming oddity, which Caravan Theatre do indeed perform in a caravan. Audience members watch as a window in its side provides a 20-minute tour of a fantastical world.
fans of lines and circles would be in raptures
The turquoise caravan offers a striking contrast to the opening images within – a skeletal white line trundles across a black background, slowly branching out into channels resembling veins or roots. It might be evoking the meandering course of a river and its tributaries, because the next evolution appears to be into a seascape with tall waves, dotted by inexplicable circles. As dusky pinks and blues start to embellish the monochrome, clever use of translucent fabrics add dimension and depth to the scene.
Occupying this world are numerous flying grey spheres. They differ in size and seem to move as trios in orbital arcs to begin with, before exhibiting a range of movements and behaviours. Three human performers (not something I usually have to qualify) interact with the balls, sometimes playfully, sometimes reverentially, while wearing dark coveralls adorned with silvery twine. Imagine the result of walking through a massive spider’s web in your best black boilersuit, and you’ve probably got the idea. Jemima Thewes, Emma Brierley and Jessica Raine use peculiar facial expressions and gestures to appear a natural part of their strange environment, but don’t emote or inspire much empathy as a result. Other figures make appearances as the setting transforms into blooming natural landscapes where sentient flowers abound, but the grey spheres are always around somewhere.
The action is accompanied throughout by a series of songs. It sounds like folk-infused a cappella consisting only of female voices, weaving a whimsical and slightly discordant soundscape. The voices are at times simply harmonised notes, but at others seem to sing in a language I didn’t recognise. Despite these variations, the tone is consistently similar and has little relation to or implications on everything else going on.
Swallow the Sea has no story to speak of, and nothing I could decipher in the way of a conventional beginning, middle, or end. Accordingly, there was palpable confusion from the audience about when to applaud the conclusion, which had to be prompted by the company returning to bow. I was never bored, but nor was I particularly invested. I was pleasantly entertained for an unobtrusive amount of time, although I imagine fans of lines and circles would be in raptures. The mechanisms and techniques used to create this ineffable piece of theatre are sometimes very obvious, and the puppetry is not deft enough to be convincingly illusory, but it is always highly original.