That's what happened
Lily James chats with the cast of Swallow about their rehearsal process, journeys taken and gender-blind casting
Stef Smith says, "I wanted to write characters who feel furious at the modern world." Do you feel particularly furious this week?
Annie Davidson: All of the characters have furiousness, but they aren’t defined by it.
George Rexstrew: This is a thing about Swallow that I did want to make quite clear. The show is marketed as a show that contains themes such as agoraphobia, self-harm, alcoholism, but what’s special about it is that the character’s aren’t defined by them. As an audience we see beyond them, we’re not governed by them.
The swallow tattoo is used by sailors to demonstrate that they had successfully sailed a certain number of miles. How has your journey to NSDF changed the play since it went on in Durham?
George: The way I’ve directed it is stylised, very clean. In this second one, we’re just making those transitions smoother and slicker. The way it feels, to me at least, is that the Durham run in November was a dress rehearsal, and this is the real thing.
What was your rehearsal process like?
George: Annie and Steph have just been a dream to work with, because I am quite pushy, I do strive for perfection, and these guys totally embrace that.
But. This is such an emotionally charged play. You could argue that the characters experience a year’s worth of human emotion in one hour. You have to keep it safe. We have kept boundaries quite clear.
We did a couple of days of rehearsal in London last week. I set up the chairs in the room and said, just use the space, forget everything I ever said to you, and just become your characters in an immersive way. These guys were a bit emotionally taken aback afterwards.
The set you’re using is very similar to that of 2015 debut at the Traverse. Is that an active reference point for you in terms of design?
George: It is loosely based on their staging. The characters are so imperfect, I like the sterility that juxtaposes with that. It’s the old saying, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
When I saw it, it was so affecting, I wanted to share that. It was a balance of taking what Traverse did so well, and spinning it ourselves.
Before you reach your discussion panel, do you want to discuss your casting of the part of Sam a little?
George: As far as I’m aware, this is the first production that features a cis male playing Sam. When it came to the call back, it was four girls, four boys, a split. It came down to who connected with the piece more.
We did make it explicitly clear in our audition call out that this would be a gender-blind, race-blind casting, and reached out to LGBT+ societies across the colleges [in Durham].
Kate Barton: It’s interesting, because in the original Traverse production, the character of Sam is always seen as transitioning from Samantha to Sam. In this [production], you start from his ideal perspective, where he is already. As an audience, we immediately see him from the perspective that Rebecca sees him.
Annie: And he learns that too, because he starts off quite insecure, but by the end of it he’s like, yeah, Sam, he was always there.
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Photo credit: Giulia Delprato