COMPLETE OPPOSITES: Zanne Solomon and Shaun Acker in The Swell.

The Swell

DIRECTOR: Gary Hartley

CAST: Zanne Solomon and Shaun Acker

VENUE: Alexander Upstairs

UNTIL: Saturday

RATING: ***

A PLASTIC kiddies’ pool, a Pilates ball and an evil-looking fish balloon are the sum total of set and props for this intriguing two-hander – and the sly humour of the script, coupled with intelligent portrayal of character by the actors, make more elaborate staging unnecessary for successful drama. The Swell has one guessing from start to finish about the true identity of the protagonists and its philosophical thrust.

A prefatory speech on the Darwinian theory of evolution, articulated by a voice off-stage, steers the mind towards speculation about the origin of our species, the relevance of which becomes apparent once we encounter the female lead; a voluptuous individual in wet drapery wallowing around a Porter Pool in the belief that she is a tailless mermaid. Already there is a thought-provoking tension discernible between reality and fantasy…

Enter the other lead, a neurotic and prissy medical aid claims officer who has tracked her down to investigate the validity of her demand for payment following the loss of her tail.

A more unlikely pair it would be hard to imagine: Marie (the “mermaid”) and Howard (the company employee) come from opposing places, both physically and mentally. He is aquaphobic, she considers water her natural habitat; she is languorous, he is twitchy; she is fanciful, he is mundane. At first, she is in control of their exchanges and he at a disadvantage, but gradually the dominance shifts as she grows more vulnerable and his opportunism shows through the diffident veneer of his first appearance in her mildewed garage. Their exchanges probe issues of identity, delusion, and self-belief.

Genna Gardini’s script is sharp and cleverly crafted, giving Zanne Solomon (Marie) and Shaun Acker (Howard) a dialogue replete with wit and off-beat poetry. Both have clarity of diction which does justice to their lines, and tight direction from Gary Hartley sustains dramatic tension.

This play has the potential to develop into a theatrical gem; at just under an hour it could happily be extended.