Swan Bake is a riotously trippy and acerbically funny show. Bell, ballerina and drug addict, lives with her girlfriend Maria, nun and drug addict, rent-free with the sinister Father Rupert, bishop and soon-to-be drug addict. Grappling with questions of faith, failure and addiction,
You will leave the theatre somewhere between laughing and shuddering.
Despite the dark fun of this production it has some problems. Samson Hawkins’s script is generally engaging, but occasionally relies on well-worn clichés for cheap laughs – expect barbs at the expense of avocado-guzzling yogis and irritating gap-yah students. Away from targeted gags jokes can feel a little try-hard and tired; a ‘post-ironic hymn’ for example lacks the wit and innovation displayed in abundance elsewhere. However, these moments only disappoint because there are many more successful jokes than there are misses and overall this is a highly original piece of writing.
Where the script really excels is in its longer speeches. Maria delivers a brilliant monologue on praying, Bell speaks candidly and poignantly about addiction, Father Rupert prances manically about the stage during a brutal television appearance and the head of The Royal Ballet is given a stunningly well-pitched cameo: each of these set pieces, to name but four, are pulled off with distinction.
This wacky play benefits from a terrific cast. Kate Dolan as Bell lets loose her one-liners perfectly, and shows real depth of character as the show’s spokesperson for the trauma that accompanies addiction. Complementing Dolan is Shannon Giles, whose Maria fizzes with matter-of-fact warmth, and finally Alex Stevens renders the ridiculous Father Rupert with extreme energy in all his wicked and sweaty glory.
While Swan Bake has several issues, and is not a show that will appeal to everyone, it does have a peculiar and powerful charisma. Be warned: you will leave the theatre somewhere between laughing and shuddering.