EdFringe 2018 Review: How to Swim in Hollywood

How to Swim in Hollywood

How to Swim in Hollywood opens in Beverly Hills in 1979 with Daisy lying upside down at her vanity table with a Bloody Mary beside her. She is dressed in a white nightgown with long blonde hair, evocative of a classic cinema starlet like Sharon Tate – someone who will later receive a thematic reference here. This one-woman play from Alice Sylvester takes a glimpse at sexual exploitation in a culture obsessed with beauty and gender performativity.

Of course the setting of 1979 gives an air of classic Hollywood nostalgia to the play, yet this thematic content that is continually relevant. On the back of the MeToo scandal and the incredibly timely debate over sexual exploitation and misogyny – not only in Hollywood, but across countless industries – this feels like pressing, relevant writing. This setting of 1979 also makes a staggering, unsettling point – not much has really changed. It’s a bleak concept and one that lends even more thematic power to this one-woman show.

Much of the horror of How to Swim in Hollywood comes from our protagonist’s casual acceptance of these acts of exploitation which she recounts with a calm sadness. She tells stories of her first sexual experience as being violated by a friend of her father – the Bloody Mary makes an unsettling appearance here. We hear the sadness in her voice as she recounts these traumas with a collected calmness – these things happen and they are not particularly unusual. A similarly disturbing encounter, this time with a high school boyfriend adds to the thematic weight of the play, revealing a disturbing frequency in which these events take place – and a in a variety of contexts.

How to Swim in Hollywood
also packs a reference to drowning with Daisy recounting an experience where she attempted to swim without knowing how. This story of drowning rears its head several times, subsequently acting as a metaphor for women drowning in a sea of misogyny and exploitation. There are also several references to Hollywood traumas like The Manson Murders and the death of the Free Love movement. These are successfully contextual clues which help uneasily transport us to late-seventies Beverly Hills and the tempestuous melting pot that it was.

The beating heart of How to Swim in Hollywood is Sylvester - who writes, directs and stars. She is sublime in her complex turn as Daisy which dips into the lingering trauma and damaging emotional consequences of exploitation and abuse. Sylvester has crafted a savvy and all too relevant piece of theatre that will undoubtedly be around for a long time.
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