Swing when you’re winning [by James Wenley]
They’ve got all the moves and turned up the Irish Charm to full for Swing, an affectionate two-step from Ireland’s Fishamble about how dance can help nudge your life in the right direction.
You’ve seen this story many times before. Two strangers meet at dance class and develop a connection (a local example would be Roger Hall’s A Shortcut to Happiness). In Swing class there’s a new dance to learn each week, and then the music is turned on for the open social until 11. May gives a class a go, and that might have been it, had not Joe asked her to stay for the social. She does have a boyfriend, which makes we wonder if this will promote the importance of platonic friendship, but Swing does end up conforming to a will-they/won’t-they romantic plot line. By going softly softly about it though, they do manage to resist the more obvious clichés. It’s sweet, not stale.
There is some background detail which goes some way to giving some more weight to the characters. He was hit hard by the depression, lost his job, wife, got dangerously low, and is now rebuilding his life one step at a time. Hers, disappointingly, is a little less developed, revolving around her satisfaction with her relationship. But once on the dance floor, home-life is left behind.
Steve Blount and Janet Moran, the actors and co-creators (with Gavin Kostick and director Peter Daly), set themselves two major acting challenges. The first is, to the repeated call of “change partner”, switching between the multiple colourful characters that make up swing class – the gossip, the creepy one, Sean (who dances like a chicken unable to lay its egg), the overenthusiastic and inappropriate instructors – which also truthfully telling Joe and May’s story. The second is to do all this dancing almost the entire run of the show. Each character needs a distinctive style, and it can’t be easy to dance competently AND incompetently depending who they are and how many lessons they’ve completed. The mark of how hard they work is the stream of sweat that dives off Blount’s nose.
Blount and Moran are performers that immediately put you at ease – we know from the start that we are going to have a good time with them. Blount excels in the comic business, but also imbues Joe with the pathos of a man who has been chipped away at by life. Moran’s dancing is superb, but it is her moments of stillness as May that really engage. There’s a bit of twee humour and Dad jokes, but we are so taken with the pair of them that they can get away with it. And talk about chemistry!
This is a small-scale but perfectly formed play about humble people, the little joys that make life bearable, and a rare example of a play that gives a positive portrayal of middle age. You’d be an eejit not to succumb to its charms.
Swing is presented by Auckland Live and Fishamble: The New Play Company and plays at The Herald Theatre until 19 September. Details see Auckland Live.