Tag Archives: Isley Lynn

The Swell

The Swell


Orange Tree Theatre

THE SWELL at the Orange Tree Theatre


The Swell

“The play is a fiendishly clever piece of writing, served brilliantly by a formidable company”


They say it’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for’, or ‘never trust a smiling cat’. Although not perfect in their analogy, it would be a similar phrase that describes how we feel walking away from Isley Lynn’s new play “The Swell”. Lynn’s writing is deceptively artful and astute, crafty yet judiciously crafted. She has that rare gift of duping us into thinking we are on safe ground, but then abruptly pulling that ground away from under our feet.

Conceived five years ago as part of Hightide’s summer writing festival, director Hannah Hauer-King has helped steer the piece towards its premiere at the Orange Tree Theatre. Her close attachment shows up in the crisp and sensitive staging of the text. Specifically played in the round there is nowhere really to hide; a challenge that is embraced. When not directly involved in in the action, the characters are still ever present; in shadows, watching, chanting or silently echoing the unfolding drama centre stage.

The “Swell” in the play’s title refers variously to the crest of a wave, the metaphorical rush of blood to the heart when in love, or the rising of a chorister’s chest. But also, to the swelling in the brain of a blood clot that can cause a stroke – which informs the bulk of the brilliantly executed shifts and twists that shape our understanding of the characters’ journeys; their motives, relationships and deceptions.

The action shifts between then and now. Annie and Bel are seemingly in love, preparing for their wedding. Until Flo – a childhood friend of Annie’s – crashes into their lives with predictable results. Suffice to say the wedding never takes place. Jessica Clark fires Flo’s spirit with an energy that races ahead of her bubbly free spirit. Saroja-Lily Ratnavel, as the young Annie, veils her emotional scar tissue with taut jitteriness that borders on violence, while Ruby Crepin-Glyne’s rootless Bel is caught in the slow dance of domesticity, aching for the tempo to change. Sophie Ward, Shuna Snow and Viss Elliot Safavi are the girls thirty years later. The extraordinarily accomplished performances tease out the intervening backstory with an understated intensity that boils beneath the gentle simmering. It feels like a caress, but all along it is scorching us.

The play is a fiendishly clever piece of writing, served brilliantly by a formidable company of actresses. You cannot avoid the fact that queerness runs through it like marble. However, like Brokeback Mountain for example, the fears and prejudice sadly still experienced are addressed without coming across as a piece of queer writing. Sexual identity is not being scrutinised, yet questions and assumptions of personal identity are thrillingly exposed and cannily upturned.

The literal and the figurative walk hand in hand. Imagine them walking through a rather predictable romcom, but then they turn a corner and are ambushed by a psychological thriller. One in which lies come in all shades of white, and betrayal can be the kindest act. The mood is underpinned, though not particularly enhanced, by Nicola T. Chang’s a Capella vocal score. The essence lies within the dialogue and the drama, and swells into a fine fusion of writing and performance.



Reviewed on 29th June 2023

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Ali Wright



Previously reviewed at this venue:


Duet For One | ★★★★ | February 2023
Rice | ★★★★ | October 2021
The Solid Life Of Sugar Water | ★★★★★ | October 2022
Two Billion Beats | ★★★½ | February 2022
While the Sun Shines | ★★★★ | November 2021


Click here to read all our latest reviews


The Desert

15 Heroines – The Desert


Jermyn Street Theatre Online

The Desert

15 Heroines – The Desert

Online from Jermyn Street Theatre

Reviewed – 8th November 2020



“an exhilarating and thoughtful production”


The Desert is one of the three instalments in 15 Heroines, a series of monologue’s inspired by a work by the Roman poet Ovid that give a voice to the aggrieved women of ancient mythology. Directed by Adjoa Andoh, Tom Littler and Cat Robey, The Desert gives a platform to Deianaria, Dido, Canace, Hypermnesta, and Sappho, all of whom were abandoned by their husbands or lovers.

We first hear from Dianaria (Indra Ové), the first wife and eventual killer of the great hero Hercules. Reimagined as the betrayed WAG of a star footballer, Dianaria – whose name incidentally means ‘man destroyer’ – plots her revenge on her cheating husband and muses on the laddish culture of celebrity sports. Dido (Rosalind Eleazar) shares her story next. The Queen of Carthage gave refuge to the great Roman hero Aeneas before he left suddenly in the night for Italy. Devastated at his leaving, Dido commits suicide, in myth, by pyre, in this play, by sword.

We then learn about the incestuous romance between Canace (Eleanor Tomlinson) and her brother Macareus who, despite their sordid affair, refused to marry her. Canace here is a guest on a talk show, answering questions about her horrifying relationship from an imagined figure off stage. The defiant Hypermnestra (Nicholle Cherrie) follows with her tale of desertion by her husband despite saving his life at risk of her own.

The great poet Sappho (Martina Laird) ends the quintet speaking about her unfaithful lover Phaon who she refers to as Britain. Sappho’s monologue explores the relationship between coloniser and colonised as Sappho laments her conformation to white beauty standards – bleached skin and a blonde wig – despite her Trinidadian heritage. This theme feels particularly poignant as Lesbos, Sappho’s home, is currently at the centre of the migrant crisis.

Ové, Tomlinson and Laird are the standout performers of the piece. Ové brings a menace to her speech that excites the audience; Tomlinson is fantastically convincing in the role of Canace; and Laird lends a vulnerability to her scene making its themes all the more powerful.

The reimagining of Dianaria, Canace and Sappho are also the most interesting and all have captivating scripts (April De Angelis, Isley Lynn and Lorna French respectively). De Angelis’ script has a welcome touch of humour. For example, Dianaria exclaiming that she was so upset by her husband leaving that she almost gave up hot yoga. Her speech also refers to several footballer scandals from Wayne Rooney to Adam Johnson. Though her tale feels exceedingly personal, we are reminded through these references that abuse and betrayal at the hands of powerful men is far from a rare occurrence.

Lynn’s script takes a different approach from the others, adopting a more conversational and thoroughly light-hearted tone at the beginning. The televised interview is an interesting way to explore such a taboo topic, and highlights how gossip and spectacle is at the heart of celebrity culture.

The sets are all centred around a chair on which the women sit apart from Hypermnestra’s scene (Jessie McKenzie) where Cherrie moves around the stage with great energy. There are also some brief bouts of singing in Hypermnestra’s monologue and a rhythmic breathing serving as a backing track. There is a clever reference to the metre of Sappho’s lyric poetry when Laird hits her papers to a careful beat while reading her letter to Phaon.

The Desert is an exhilarating and thoughtful production. All three chapters of 15 Heroines have explored universal themes of love, loss, and betrayal, but none do so successfully as The Desert that demonstrates how even millennia later, some things never change.


Reviewed by Flora Doble

Photography by Marc Brenner


15 Heroines – The Desert

Online via jermynstreettheatre.co.uk until 14th November


Last ten shows reviewed by Flora:
Jekyll & Hyde | ★★★½ | The Vaults | February 2020
Minority Report | ★★★½ | The Vaults | February 2020
The Six Wives Of Henry VIII | ★★★ | King’s Head Theatre | February 2020
Julius Caesar | ★★★★ | The Space | March 2020
The Haus Of Kunst | ★★★ | The Vaults | March 2020
Big Girl | ★★★ | Bread & Roses Theatre | September 2020
Pippin | ★★★★ | The Garden Theatre | September 2020
All By Myself | ★★½ | Online | October 2020
How to Live a Jellicle Life | ★★★★ | Lion & Unicorn Theatre | October 2020
Howerd’s End | ★★★½ | Golden Goose Theatre | October 2020


Click here to see our most recent reviews