Swing is a comedy about dancing”. Fishamble’s international hit refreshingly explores the nature of dance comically through the eyes of a different art form, reminding the dancers and dance enthusiasts among us of the true values of movement. Not a perfectly aligned arabesque, but communication, escapism and fun.

The play begins suddenly and humorously, as the double act (Arthur Riordan and Gene Rooney) enter through the audience, asking spectators “is this Swing?” subsequently unloading their bike helmets and bags onto the stage from their supposed commutes. This opening sets the tone for whole production, as throughout the performance the actors involve and directly address the audience. In their roles as the larger than life hosts of a Swing Dance society, they welcome the audience with black humour – “we’re all swingers here!” – and perform demonstrations of humorous dance steps, including monkey walks and “fish bums.” This use of direct address is engaging and transforms audience members from their status as theatre-goers in the Oxford Playhouse, to attendees of a swing dance class in an unspecified area of the Republic of Ireland.

We are then introduced to many of the other anachronistic members of the dance class, all portrayed by Riordan and Rooney. The characters range from dance beginners, to Sean the nervous perfectionist, from a BO ridden letch, to a snobby, self-confident regular. This consistent changing of characters demonstrates the performers’ highly adaptable acting abilities and is facilitated cleverly by utilising the structure of social dances – the actors switch their comical roles as they hear the loud cry of “change partners!”

Riordan and Rooney finally settle in the roles of Swing’s protagonists – Joe and May – whom we follow through various life problems. Whilst dancing – impressively maintaining the rhythmic steps of the Charleston, Shim Sham and the Lindyhop – Joe and May build an endearing friendship, and discuss their various worries. Joe is a 50 year old divorcee. He’s lost his job, his sons have moved to Australia and he’s returned to university to study horticulture. May is a failed artist. She’s settled for a job as a graphic designer and is stuck in a loveless relationship of convenience. As we observe the lives of these two individuals smiling through their mid-life crises, the true genius of Swing unfolds. The issues Joe and May face with perfecting their dance steps become metaphors for their wider life problems, whilst their new found hobby simultaneously provides an escape from reality. Joe describes how he questioned “should I jump or go dancing”, highlighting a key message of the play; dance is therapeutic and rejuvenating, and can be enjoyed by anyone at any point in their lives.

Swing is an enjoyable theatrical experience that provides hilarity, relatability and overall “makes you want to put on your dancing shoes.” It is therefore fitting that as the audience leave the auditorium, members of Oxford Swing Dance are joyously performing in the theatre bar, compelling you to experience for yourself the benefits of social dance that have just been explored onstage.

Emily May

17th April 2016

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