At Create Theatre, Mansfield last night I watched the first night (world premiere!)  of “Swing” by Cathy Grindrod, performed by Vision West Notts Performing Arts Department. The premise is simple. Four young offenders are made to take part in an arts project. This is a sharp, funny, insightful and occasionally bleak play in a very fine production.


Kelly, Beth, Josh and Mark start off with stereotypical elements. “Gay-boy” Mark knits his pink blanket, Beth struts and gives “Whatever” lip. Over the course of the play they reveal, in Ayckbourn mode, their real lives and problems, disrupted homes and pasts, parents’ own difficulties. Great lines sparkle:

“I was involved in a skirmish” “You’re talking like you’re on Downton” “What’s that, drugs?” The dialogue is as naturalistic as Mike Leigh, real and accessible (thanks to the cast, rehearsal process and Directors, as well as Cathy Grindrod, by the sounds of the after-show talk) and the writing is so well character-driven, that the issues that arise, of adoption, marital grief, care homes, drink, abandonment, never feel contrived.


Noone is blamed, and nothing is overtold.  Sam, the arts project manager, is heartless and unsympathetic, whilst caring Dave, who looks after the project for a while, gives the group more room and trust, and they don’t achieve that much art! But they learn to understand each other, find each other, and during the play we make the journey with the characters exploring who each other really is. In the final scene, cleverly, the group show us the final results of their arts project. Which only lasts 2 minutes, but packs a real punch.


The ensemble playing is excellent, with all the cast outstanding in their main roles (Shannon Walker marginally shines out as Kelly), and perfectly at ease switching to other roles like parents, police etc. The staging is simple and effective, in the round, with a kitchen table on one side, the arts project/ police interview table on the other.  But centre stage is a swing, a great device, always bringing us back to their innocence, as well as other moods - anger, frailty, confusion. In a few scenes Beth uses a video camera, with live footage on screens above the stage, showing poignant close-ups, and reminding us of representation, reality and the dominance of the media.


The play won the Write Track (new writing programme at The Palace, Mansfield) annual competition. Let’s hope this play, and indeed this production of it, can go further. The play wisely holds back from pointing its finger at economic conditions and Government policies that discriminate against these lives, but dates on the screens show 2014 and 2015. It almost feels like these difficult lives are ticking their way towards the election.


It’s simple. For a powerful and entertaining evening - I suggest you go and see this play if you can.



Matt Black