Review: Swifties

4 star rating
Cleverly and thoughtfully written and directed, with a wholly-appropriate melodramatic feel to it, this is an unusual and strangely entrancing play that has something arresting to say about celebrity and our 'normal', humdrum lives.
Swifties at Theatre N16

Image: Theatre N16


Theatre: Theatre N16

Closes here: Saturday 11 March 2017

Author:
Tom Stenton

Composer:
JP Thwaites

Director:
Luke Davies

Cast:

Isabella Niloufar

Tanya Cubric


Synopsis


A new play about Taylor Swift, instagram and having no money.


Yasmin and Nina work in an Amazon "fulfilment centre".


They live in Luton, the birthplace of Britain First.


And they are Taylor Swift's biggest fans.


Ever.


Their ultimate dream is to be a part of Tay Tay's famous 'girl squad'.


But the closer they get to realising that dream, the blurrier the line between fantasy and reality becomes.


Exploring the alienating and destructive effect that poverty, celebrity fetishism and social media can have on the lives of normal people, Swifties is a bold new adaptation of Jean Genet's play The Maids.


ActDrop reviews


Peter Brown

Performance date: Wednesday 1 March 2017
Review star rating image

In general - and generalisations can, of course, be seductive, dangerous and divisive - I can usually see where a play is heading in terms of its overall quality and, thus, its likely star-rating within the first 10 or 15 minutes or so.


This new play is, however, one of those exceptions that 'prove' the rule', whatever that actually means.


It gets better and more complex - and, in many ways, proves more emotionally unsettling and troubling - as it moves into its final stages.


And the ingenious way in which writer Tom Stenton has constructed it means that, at first, we don't really understand just what is going on or why - though it becomes entirely clear by the finale.


Before we proceed, let's get one thing straight.


My knowledge of Taylor Swift's lifestyle, music and her emotional crises or romantic attachments could fit with consummate ease on a pin head.


If you are similarly devoid of background in the Taylor Swift department, you needn't worry too much about it spoiling your enjoyment or appreciation of this work - it certainly didn't spoil mine.


Suffice it to say that this isn't really a play about Taylor Swift per se, though we hear a good deal about her and her lifestyle from the two characters here, Yasmin and Nina, who are both ardent admirers of Ms Swift and all her works.


They both have unfulfilling existences working in an Amazon fulfilment centre, providing all those temptingly-priced goodies that we customers hope will fulfil our lives.


All their spare time seems to be devoted to adoring and admiring everything that Taylor Swift is and has done - they are, to use a well-worn expression from another famous literary work, 'her number one fans'.


But you wouldn't think that from the opening sequence where the two young women indulge in a strange kind of game where one takes the role of Ms Swift and the other a kind of flunky assistant.


And that, appropriately, brings us to the inspiration for the piece: Jean Genet's 'The Maids' - first performed in 1947 - which is about two maids who concoct sadomasochistic rituals while their mistress is absent.


Director Luke Davies has arranged the acting area for this play into a kind of narrow thrust stage with the audience on three sides.


That's nothing particularly new or innovative at this address, but in this case, we're even closer to the action than usual, which gives us, the audience, more a feeling of being part of the action.


Moreover, we feel almost like co-conspirators in the strangely beguiling game that the two protagonists play, as well as their subsequent plans.


The now ubiquitous cupcakes prove a canny and humorous tool, both as a demonstration of loving affection between the young women and the object of their devotion, as well as the vehicle for her potential demise.


There's a smattering of humour in the play though, rather strangely, only a few members of the audience seemed to pick-up on it.


As a whole, the play still feels a little raw at times and I suspect some further, restrained development might be appropriate.


That said, most of its rawness needs to be left in tact because this is not a play which has to be pruned and polished to absolute perfection - part of its appeal and substantial impact is that Yasmin and Nina are imperfect humans, not robots or stylised celebrities.


Cleverly and thoughtfully written and directed, with a wholly-appropriate melodramatic feel to it, this is an unusual and strangely entrancing play that has something arresting to say about celebrity and our 'normal', humdrum lives.


As such, it is definitely worth seeing.



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