July 01, 1994

Viewless Wings

The Swan
by Elizabeth Egloff
State Theatre

Reviewed by Murray Bramwell

The Swan is exactly the kind of bright, young theatre Chris Westwood promised. We didn’t get it with Accidental Death of an Anarchist and Crow was too much a work in progress. But The Swan flies straight at you. First performed at the Yale School of Drama in 1988, Elizabeth Egloff’s play- presented in Melissa Bruce’s excellent version- is the sort of fresh air that we need. It is no wonder that the play has had more than fifty productions world-wide.

The storyline is what you might call magic realist. A swan crashes through the lounge window and smack into the Nebraskan lives of Dora, the nurse and Kevin, the milkman. They are a model of Norman Rockwell adultery. “I am a decent guy,” Kevin piously reminds his girlfriend, Dora – I’ve got a wife and a kid and job.” And now there is a swan in the picture- hanging around the house like a gigolo, eating pizza, unsettling the neighbours, making moony poetic overtures to Dora and generally being a signifying sort of cygnet. Dora, in return, is stirred by the bird, buys algae from the algae shop and calls him Bill in an increasingly familiar tone of lipstick. As the patterns of her relationship with Kevin fall more and more into the loop of habit, it is time, like the swan, for her to evanesce.

Melissa Bruce has confidently steered Elgoff’s engaging text with a restrained and intelligent production. Genevieve Blanchett’s set design emanates from the central shattered window, empty mirror in the frozen white of the decor. Everything is white- the table, chairs, bed, cushions, fridge. Kevin is dressed in white work clothes like something out of an Archie comic. When he comes home he pours himself a glass of very white milk. In this emotional tundra, the suddenly rising, naked form of the swan is startlingly and paradoxically warm-blooded.

Aural designer Paul Charlier augments the set with an unobtrusive wash of synths and natural sounds. He has his bold moments, though, to match the mood swings of Mark Shelton’s lighting- from icy white to buttery dawnings and starkly infra-red nightmare.

The performances are excellent. Kaarin Fairfax is curious, tender and increasingly forthright as Dora. Her accent is well-judged and like David Field as Kevin, her sense of the rhythms of the text is subtle and effective. Field’s Kevin is a comic Palooka, confused but also unnervingly controlling. You’re never quite sure what he (or Dora) might do with any of the firearms around the place. Anthony Wong as the swan is also outstanding. Beaking at his shoulder, making swanny honks, he is amusing and sardonic, evoking the dark webs and feathered glory that Yeats used to write about.

The Swan is an original work. The text is poetic without being purple, sharp without being slick. Melissa Bruce has directed with flair and good judgement and the performances are a delight. I hope that young audiences, in particular, have found their way to this production. It is the sort of theatre that roosts in your mind. State can be very proud of this one.

The Adelaide Review, July, 1994, p. 27.

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