Mental health is a recurring theme this Edinburgh Festival Fringe, with both performers and comedians trying to break the taboo. The Traverse Theatre programme features male depression in Fake it ‘til you Make it and the everyday survival of three women in Swallow, directed by award winning Traverse Artistic Director Orla O’Loughlin. With an intelligently poetic script of intertwining struggles written by Stef Smith, Swallow manages to explore the theme a little more playfully.
It’s been two Christmases since Anna (Emily Wachter) went outside, but she keeps busy with nature programmes, building nests and smashing up her house. Her neighbour Rebecca (Anita Vettesse) is having a meltdown, and turns to alcohol and self harm, after splitting from her husband. Then there is Sam (Sharon Duncan-Brewster) who was born inside the wrong body, and hates that her work badge still says Samantha.
Both emotion and humour are brought to the stage by the remarkably outstanding cast. Duncan-Brewster is so powerful in her emerging masculinity, one almost forgets that she is female. They are all wildly honest, laying bare their truths and as their monologues intercut, they come together as a single entity.
The play features an eminently bare, bright white setting, with a table and a light that’s also a door, through which the characters try to communicate. The trio are trapped in their own isolation, but as their stories of social anxiety, loneliness, depression and gender unfold, they realise that everyone is suffering, even if its feels like you are the only one. Without being overly serious, Swallow epitomises female angst. It is witty, painful, veracious and that’s why it tears you apart.