Review: Tumble Tuck at the King’s Head Theatre

The King’s Head Theatre’s Who Runs The World? season is both a celebration and showcase of female playwrights, produced in response to a suggestion last year by the Artistic Director of the Hampstead Theatre, Edward Hall, that there a) aren’t many of them around, and b) nobody will pay to hear what they have to say anyway.

Headlining the season is Tumble Tuck by Sarah Milton, which proves both arguments wrong in one fell swoop. It also turns out that not only will people pay good money to see a play written and performed by a woman, they might even – gasp – have a great time doing it. Appropriately, in light of the comments that inspired the season, the play examines the true meaning of success, as seen through the eyes of Daisy, a young swimmer about to take part in her first race.

Photo credit: Alex Brenner

As her big moment approaches, all Daisy – played by Milton – can think about is her wobbly bits, her imperfect swimming style, and how flawless the other girls on the team are in comparison. Worn down by her mum’s off-hand comments about her “big daughter”, and tormented by the thought that if she’d only let her boyfriend have sex with her he might not have ended up in prison, she ultimately finds solace in the water and her love of swimming – not for medals, but for the simple pleasure of doing something she’s good at.

Milton’s solo performance is a fast-moving tour de force, which sees her bring to life and engage in conversation with the various unique characters in Daisy’s life: her mum, ex-boyfriend, best friend, swimming coach, teammate… each entirely distinct and with their own personality and mannerisms. It’s as Daisy herself, however, that Milton really shines; her chatty, confessional and very funny style – not to mention her unapologetic love of cheese and KitKats – means that we quickly consider her a friend, and when the story later takes a darker path, we have no hesitation in following to see where it leads.

Directed by Tom Wright, the show fully immerses us in Daisy’s world, moving Milton around the intimate stage area and converting the simple space into her local swimming pool so effectively through the use of light and sound that you can practically smell the chlorine. It’s in the pool also that we’re treated to some lovely slow-motion movement sequences, as Daisy embraces the freedom to be completely herself that she only finds underwater.

Photo credit: Alex Brenner

Tumble Tuck is an uplifting and often hilarious study of a young woman as she comes to the realisation that true empowerment comes from within, not from the validation of others. It’s a message that will resonate with everyone, not only women, and as such is a great choice to headline a season that specifically sets out to prove female writers can – and do – have universal appeal.

Tumble Tuck is at the King’s Head Theatre until 12th May.

Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it… 😉

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