Walk Swiftly And With Purpose is a coming-of-age narrative, which calmly sets ablaze the Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, History Boys, and Dead Poets’ Society and, with a short sharp kick, sends them toppling off a very modern cliff. Sofria Dromgoole’s script reforms the ‘classroom play’ genre & provides a deeply sensitive treatment of four young adult women at college as they take tentative but daring steps along the gauntlet towards adulthood. It is perilous. At stake is agency, the articulation of the self, and social authenticity. This debut play from Three Sisters is a titanic overhaul of depictions of young adult women in secondary school & it should be seen as genre-changing.
Sofria Dromgoole’s script reforms the ‘classroom play’ genre.
Imy Wyatt Corner and Cara Dromgoole’s direction ensures that there is no play acting here. Classroom scenes can sometimes result in actors playing children, of infantilising themselves for meagre narrative service. This is not the case with Walk Swiftly. Actors Grainne Dromgoole, Theodora Mead, Miranda Shamiso and Looby Mills play four young adult women who are at school and understand they’ve probably grown out of the strictures of it. They are aware of the flaws of the adults around them, how to exploit them, and how the choices of these adults have in turn undermined and exploited their own opportunities to actualise fiercely protected visions of the future. It is not a self-righteous play peddling incipient millennial wrath - this is a play with a special rage, that drills deeper through the hypocrisies of adult behaviour and more into the alarming artifice of experience itself.
The script is rampantly inter-textual, without being proscriptive or overbearingly analogous; it revels in oratory, yet steers clear of exposition; and it salutes sexual experimentation as a form of expression, but also as a necessary and often hard-as-nails endeavour. It does not flinch away from the fact that ‘coming of age’ is an expeditious task, where wounds can be sustained and the discoveries of any frontier will bring disappointment as well as wonder.
Dromgoole’s script is a work of tightly-wound delight and heartbreak. It does not swing between these states (as many scripts might do, in the classic and popular ‘peaks’ and ‘troughs’ formula for setting script pacing), but rather weaves these two outputs together simultaneously. You cannot get one without the other in this script. This script pays homage to various literary predecessors by inventing unsaid but clearly felt emotional oxymorons. The joy of conquest is twinned with the pathos of lost forever. The ideal of the eternal friendship group is shipwrecked by the impermanence of instant messaging and unspoken (yet comforting) half-truths required to maintain the group dynamic. Preparations for a party are treated like an expansive diorama, and yet each character’s navigation of the party is deeply personal, filled with intimate unknowns they do not share with the others.
Three Sisters have done something rare, which is to achieve synchronicity of the creative vision across all aspects on (and presumably off) stage. The fallacies of experience are in everything - the script, the direction, the performers, and the stage design. Likewise for the vulnerabilities of youth. Adam Mirsky plays a convincing and predatory teacher (Mr Hughes), who emotionally sabotages one of his students in order to suit the self-exonerating narrative of his own failure to achieve an impressive existence. All characters struggle with this: motivations are transposed into clumsy attempts at authentic action, and the audience can see their own tender, yearning attempts at authenticity in the intelligent and emotionally aware pacing of Walk Swiftly.
This play captures what it feels like to wake up at three in the morning and remember ‘that’ moment from your history that you wish you could forget - and yet which comes from a complex but treasured private space. But it is not a fraught and angry analysis that will leave audiences unhappy or uncertain. It is deeply funny, stylish and mischievous, and generous. Rather than shred the conceits of experience and authority to ribbons, it rather displays that it could do so but won’t do so. Instead, Walk Swiftly And With Purpose charms, entertains and evokes a tender space that feels like a welcome nostalgia.