Fringe: Swivelhead - the human cost of modern warfare

Swivelhead, Pleasance - Edinburgh Fringe 2016
Swivelhead, Pleasance - Edinburgh Fringe 2016

Captivating, intriguing and absorbing, it’s safe to say there is no other drama quite like Swivelhead on the Fringe.

Swivelhead

Pleasance

Rating ****

Captivating, intriguing and absorbing, it’s safe to say there is no other drama quite like Swivelhead on the Fringe.

A new piece of writing, it makes the most of an imaginative split set to tell the story of an RAF drone commander who slowly, steadily unravels and begins turning into an owl.

It mixes the personal and the professional, using the set superbly to illustrate each before gradually intertwining them as the show moves towards a rather strange ending.

Swivelhead studies the effects of warfare on the military - the human cost amid the hi-tech approach of targeting the enemy.

Commander, Paddy Atkinson-Ward (Ben Dyson) is old school; got the wings, chalked up the missions and sees civilians as collateral damage.

It’s clear his career is everything,and yet it hasn’t taken him as high as he thinks it should have, so he finds himself as a drone commander, with a new, young rookie side kick, Callum (Lewis Howard) whose views and training also underline the shifting sands even within the service he has dedicated a huge part of his life to.

Paddy is a man increasingly out of step with ‘modern’ thinking, and his bravado and bluster are stripped away to reveal a worrying vulnerability.

But central to the story is Paddy’s bond to his sister, Hattie (Juliet Welch), who is counting down to her wedding something neither thought would ever happen.

Paddy envisaged them growing old together – he refers to her fiancé is ‘thingy’ and struggles to accept her promise that nothing will change.

As kids they played in a tree house, and the top half of this split set recreates that carefree childhood haunt. Below it is stark ops room where Paddy and his side kick spend endless, tedious shifts monitoring activity among unspecified groups.

Paddy’s growing tetchiness with his sister is just one of the signs of his fragility.

He starts suffering strange physical ailments too, while his tall tales sit increasingly uneasy with his modern-thinking partner in the control room.

Gradually, we watch the wing commander fall apart as the certainties in his world start to spin and turn, leaving him increasingly distressed.

The writing is fantastic - it draws you into the narrative - and the three strong cast deserve huge credit for some compelling performances in a show that is as much about the person as it is about the bigger subject of warfare.

Run ends August 29

Allan Crow