Home » London Theatre Reviews » The Swallow / La Golondrina by Guillem Clua at Cervantes Theatre | Review

The Swallow / La Golondrina by Guillem Clua at Cervantes Theatre | Review

The Swallow - Cast
The Swallow

Billed as a response to the Orlando terrorist attack of 2016, The Swallow follows the story of Ray (David Luque), who convinces singing teacher Emily (Jeryl Burgess) to help him on his vocal technique ahead of a memorial service for his recently deceased mother. Quickly, it becomes apparent that Ray isn’t suffering the loss of his mother at all, and the two are inexorably linked by the deaths suffered in the attack. A mother who has lost a son and a man who has lost a partner talk through their grief and confusion after an event that is difficult to quantify. My viewing of The Swallow was in its English translation of Guillem Clua’s play, originally written in Spanish.

While the subject matter is rich with emotional turmoil, it feels shaky from the start, and this might have something to do with the translation. With a beautifully decorated and designed set from Alejandro Andújar, Jeryl Burgess emerges immediately as the strength of the play, her take on the bereaved Emily solid and largely convincing.

However, I was entirely distracted by cultural inconsistencies in the script – despite being very clearly in reference to this very American incident, Emily talks about watching “Bake Off” and drinking tea, while Ray talks of a young man who plays water polo, affected by the attack – are they in Britain or the warmer climes of America? It was hard to really imagine where these two characters were in the world outside this beautifully book-laden set.

Perhaps this is part of the reason the dialogue felt quite so stilted at times; some of the delivery certainly doesn’t help matters, as emotional high points are painfully bellowed out at high volume. Let it be a lesson for all that yelling doesn’t necessarily equal high emotional tension.

There are certainly moments of real clarity and humanity in Clua’s script; the stand out moments are the quiet ones, and there are instances of comedy and lightness that offer respite from rather a lot of arguing. There are deep questions here that could well have been mined further, particularly around empathy and understanding. After all, it’s essentially a conversation between two people who wouldn’t otherwise have anything to do with each, bar this horrible tragedy that unites them.

Its main drawback is, invariably, predictability, and the length certainly doesn’t aid this. The energy repetitively rises and falls in line with the beats in the script, such that it does feel more like listening to a well-worn, perhaps even prosaic song, rather than observing the chaotic quality of actual humans in grief.

Despite all the efforts to construct an emotionally visceral two-hander, The Swallow inevitably suffers from a series of ‘reveals’ that aren’t at all revealing. As we hit the same high notes again and again, I couldn’t help but feel a cut back would have helped keep a few of the emotional apexes strong, rather than diffused amongst a multitude of similarly predictable chunks of exposition. With a good strong edit and perhaps a clearer sense of rapport or charm between the two characters, much more could have been achieved.

2 gold stars

Review by Christina Carè

Wanting to work on his vocal technique before singing at the memorial service of his beloved mother, Ray (Ramón) enlists the help of strict singing teacher Emily (Amelia). During an explosive evening of confessions, it becomes clear that they are united by more than just music, as both struggle to deal with the aftermath of a terrorist attack in their own ways.

Inspired by the attack in a gay nightclub in Orlando that saw the deaths of 50 people, The Swallow is a highly emotional work exploring how loss can simultaneously separate and unite people.

Directed by Paula Paz, Associate Director of The Cervantes Theatre, and starring David Luque and Jeryl Burgess in the English version and David Luque and Amparo Climent in the original Spanish version. The play also features music by Nico Casal, composer of the music for 2016 Oscar winner Stutterer and set design by the talented and multi-garlanded Alejandro Andújar. The play is translated by Tim Gutteridge.

What makes us human? For Amelia, a deeply wounded mother, what makes us humans is the capacity to feel other’s pain as your own. When an indiscriminate attack happens, we are all victims who have to deal with the same crossroads: hate or love. Our world depends on the direction we decide to take’ – Guillem Clua.

The Swallow will run from 30 April to 5 May in Spanish and from 7 – 26 May in English.
7.30pm – 9pm
90 minutes no interval
Cervantes Theatre
Arch 26. Old Union Arches. 229 Union Street. London. SE1 0LR


  • Christina Carè

    'Christina is just another Aussie in London, writing about the arts and signing up for all the weird performance productions the city has to offer. She is Content Editor at Spotlight and tweets from @christinacare.'

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