Swifties, at the Theatre N16 (Balham) (review)

I tend to stick to the philosophy that if you can’t say nice about something, you shouldn’t say anything at all. But that would make for a very short review.

Swifties is supposed to be about the relationship between celebrities and their fans, and centres on two young women who appear to love the singer Taylor Swift. An overlong first section of the play sees them re-enacting a role play, with one of them playing Taylor Swift, or ‘Tay’, and the other one of them playing her submissive fan Nina. Confusingly, the girl playing Taylor Swift is actually called Nina, and her ‘friend’ is Yasmin although their relationship is far from warm. The two girls’ obsession with Taylor Swift veers between the adoring and the murderous, the love and the hatred.

Then the role play stops, the lights change, and they turn into their real selves. In their real life Nina (Tanya Cubric) and Yasmin (Isabella Niloufar) have escaped their depressing life back home in Luton through winning a competition, and are in a hotel room about to meet their idol, Swift herself.  The plot line of how Nina manages to sabotage this meeting is wrapped up in a fabricated rape allegation involving music producer Calvin Harris (Swift’s ex-boyfriend). Once Swift’s team has found out that Nina is behind the lie, the meeting between them is cancelled, which causes the situation to degenerate.

Swifties is loosely based on the Jean Genet play The Maids, wherein two maids act out sado-masochistic role plays around murdering their mistress.  Using The Maids as inspiration is an interesting element, but the link is tenuous and needn’t be there. For me, the narrative does not make sense, the characters are highly annoying in the way they seem to keep switching personality, and the dialogue makes me cringe, including their irritating, babyish, bad American accents (even if they are supposed to be like that). I can’t even write the name Nina without shuddering, it is so overused, and so whiny.

The two actors give it all they have but the play by Tom Stenton does not give them consistent material to work with. It is a pity as a few interesting ideas are touched on, but they are not developed coherently: celebrities like Swift might appear to be philanthropic to their fans, yet it only serves to increase the star’s social media following and their popularity, and further widens the chasm between the star and the fan.  As an audience I think we felt there was a chasm between us and Swifties.

The best bit is the end, and I don’t mean that facetiously.  Isabella Niloufar takes the hand of an audience member in the front row and poignantly sings a Swift song called The Outside, looking right at her. If only we’d had more moments like this.

hattydaze rating:  */*****


Photo: Luke Davies

I attended Swifties on press tickets for Ginger Wig and Strolling Man. Swifties is at Theatre N16 (Balham) until 11th March.


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