This is a brave, yet somehow ambiguous, one woman show that blazes with intensity, passion and talent. Ostensibly about one girl’s trials and triumphs in the swimming pool, Tumble Tuck covers all manner of themes, from self-love and familial relationships, to body image and violence. The width of topics lends this show a strange kind of plausible implausibility: I found myself thinking that it seemed very unrealistic, there was too much going on, whilst also recognising the believability of pretty much anything happening in this madness we call life.
This uncertainty, this sense of an unreal reality, was perhaps exacerbated by the breakneck speed with which we are rattled through scenes. One minute we are being talked through swimming technique in a breathless rush and the next we are dropped in the dark centre of an emotionally abusive relationship, only to be spat back out again seconds later into a comedic interlude about KitKats. It’s a real whirlwind, rollercoaster of a show, and this racing breathless quality, whilst occasionally difficult to hang on to, is integral to the story and its central character, Daisy.
The show quite rightly focuses in on the performer: the space in The King’s Head Theatre is completely bare apart from a few rows of plastic bunting, atmospherically suggestive of the poolside setting. Sarah Milton is quite simply fantastic, creating an array of fascinating, hilarious characters – all so strongly differentiated that I could swear there was more than one actress onstage. Her comedic timing is confident and adept, and she creates and uses humour without ever becoming self-indulgent or self-congratulatory. The humour is balanced by the drama in this piece: Milton was quite clearly exhausted as the show came to its conclusion, having moved through the gamut of emotions from elation to panic, pride to desperation. The characters and the performance are incredibly volatile, with some moments descending into what feel like incredibly deep, dark places. The line between performance and reality feels thinly drawn at these points, which in some ways is a tribute to the excellence of the performer and which in other ways feels slightly dangerous, bordering on out of control.
Milton holds it together, though; this fragile piece and the vulnerable, complicated person at the centre of it. We see Daisy not only as a character but as a site of so many different types and forces of abuse, and the overwhelming sensation at the close of the play is that this is an incredibly dark little nugget of work, exploring the brutality inherent in life and in our relationships with one another. It is masterfully written and skilfully performed: this is a piece that reaches in to change the chemistry within each individual audience member, the effects of which can be felt long after the final lines have been spoken.