THE THREE SWANS, FROME
This production takes place in the upstairs function room of the gloriously quirky Three Swans pub. The programme notes say “From the comfort of her flat, an excitable, precocious, irrepressible woman with a dirty mouth and a lot to say, discusses life, her many opinions and her best friend, all the while avoiding the advances of her over-eager neighbour…At times both funny and moving it explores themes of confidence and insecurities, friendship and loss, and finding your way in the modern world.”
This, for once, turns out to be a wholly accurate summation of a piece of theatre. What it doesn’t, can’t, tell you is what Bethany Heath, who wrote and performs it, actually does with it. Her performance is electrifying from the first moment, as she bursts into view ranting and swearing about some perceived insult. It turns out that this character is an actor (as Heath herself indubitably is), and this is some enjoyably arch bitching about not being respected in the work place. And there is much about the vagaries of her life as an actor, its unfairness, the constant rejections, the jealousies, the spite against those who undeservedly get the parts she thinks she should have got. But underneath the ranting, and the condemning of nearly everyone, not just theatrical folk, as “fucking idiots”, much of which is very funny, her fragility starts to show. It becomes apparent that her anger with other people is really about her unhappiness about herself; the contradiction between her vitriolic put- downs of almost everybody she comes across, and her loneliness as a result of that, is painful. It becomes clearer in the brief visit of Alex, from downstairs. It is obvious she wants to communicate with him, but remains tongue-tied at the prospect of a real, ordinary conversation, not shouting and not on stage: very redolent of Glenda Jackson’s paradoxical definition of acting as “an extreme form of shyness.” The performance is punctuated by interludes in which she self- consciously demonstrates her acting skill, which we enjoy, but she cannot; and her final collapse at the thought that she has somehow offended and lost the only person she really cares about is truly tragic. Heath’s portrayal of her is one of extraordinary power and range, and as this is also her debut as a writer, says that here is a person of startling talent.
John Christopher Wood