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Swifties: Theatre N16

I’ve identified as a ‘Swiftie’ (Taylor Swift’s mega fan base, in case you weren’t aware), for a decade now. If I were to rewind a clock back ten years to when I was thirteen years old, I would definitely see myself listening to Swift’s country tunes ‘Tim McGraw’ and ‘Teardrops on my Guitar’ through my iPod earphones on my bed. Fast-forward to now, and I’m still driving around in my Volkswagen Beetle belting out ‘Style’ and ‘Bad Blood’ from the 1989 album, as if no one is watching me. Between the questionable authenticity and genuineness of Taylor’s very likeable, extremely relatable and dorky ‘girl-next-door’ personality (or persona, if that’s what non-Swifties prefer to see it as), one thing remains perfectly clear for all Swifites: her music speaks to us in ways no other music does, and the relationship she has with her prescious fan-base is something so unique, which Taylor herself holds very dear: “It’s honestly the most amazing feeling that there’s this group of people that has my back, and that they always show up”. I don’t think I’ve ever met a fellow Swiftie, where not one of them really relates to a particular song, or has been through that same experience that Taylor has. She describes her songwriting process as if she were writing in a diary, and then sharing it to the world to read. The themes of her songs are so identifiable to all – heartbreak, humiliation, being bullied or feeling like an outsider, shaking things off, healing, falling in love, falling out of love, the confusing and wonderful world of relationships and fellow girlfriends, and not comparing yourself to others. Taylor Swift truly does wear her heart on her sleeve, and it’s expressed so well throughout her music. I don’t want to believe that her ‘persona’ is a façade – no Swiftie ever wants to believe that! Then again, it’s easy to see how someone portrayed as being so perfect, immaculate, and never being able to do any wrong, can leave some fans feeling left out of the ‘cool’ loop (or the ‘Squad’ if we want to be accurate). ‘Swifties’ was advertised as a play that explored some of the darker sides of fan-girling and the impact social media has on our well-being. This is what I thought…

Directed by Luke Davies, and written by Tom Stenton, the play begins as the audience walks into the performance area, taking their seats. Taylor Swift’s music is blasting out with pink neon lights on the floor, making the stage look as if it were a runway. It became obvious to me at once that this was a fly on the wall type situation, watching what happens when two mega-fans, Nina and Yasmin, get together in a hotel room – both singing with passion and dancing around whilst giggling. As the music went on, and on, and on, and on, stranger things started to happen; something that didn’t sit very comfortable with me as a die hard Swiftie. The girls began to play dress up. Tanya Cubric, has on a short blonde wig (it’s awkwardely placed on purpose and slightly tilted) and puts on a grand over-the-top eccentric performance as the stereotypical narcissistic Taylor, with all of her demands, and ‘bow down to me’ type behaviour that some expect her to have - all whilst giving out ‘fan demands’ in a forced American accent to Isabella Niloufar’s character, who plays the ‘obsessed, adoring, little fan’ throughout the role play, who will do anything for Taylor’s love, affection and time. 

Maybe the reason I felt so uncomfortable watching something like this was because of how seriously they were taking this role play – my initial reaction: “Us Swifties just don’t do this sort of thing!”. It felt like the Swiftie culture wasn’t being taken seriously enough. I decided to move these thoughts to one side, and watched on. The girls had won a competition to meet Swift herself - hence, being in a hotel room, and were killing time whilst waiting to be taken to meet her by Tay-Tay's team. What startled me was when part of the dialogue turned distasteful - the obsession, envy and personal entitlement with Taylor had gone so far, that they decided they would rather kill the star with a cupcake filled with crushed pills, than ask for a group selfie for their Instagram accounts. One of the most believable parts of the play was when the girls decide to make up a rape allegation towards Calvin Harris - Taylor's then-boyfriend - so that they could get closer to her to be the new members of the infamous squad. It dawned on me that some obsessed fans do go to these extreme lengths to be noticed, but we never saw the consequences of their lies. Towards the finale, the play doesn't end on a positive note - (whether on purpose, or by accident... we weren't really sure). I do believe this was intended to shock, and it could have worked extremely well, but it failed to move me in the way I hoped it would. I can't help but feel the actresses were let down by the flow of the script - they were clearly very passionate about this work, and it showed, but their talent was lost behind the awkwardness of it all. Throughout, I thought the storyline would eventually develop, the plot would thicken, and it would become more meaningful to me, but I struggled to keep up as they spontaneously kept switching back to playing pretend. I did think that this was the point Tom Stenton, was trying to make - the girl's fetishism of Taylor Swift had gone so far that they simply could not face being themselves. However, I thought the moral of the story was lost behind dark sunglasses and abrupt language that left the audience feeling a little confused. Swifties definitely had potential to be a play that left audiences thinking more about the insecurities, and devastating effects of being so involved within a fandom, but fell a little flat. 

Swifties is currently playing at Theatre N16 in Balham until Saturday 11th March. This play may be suitable for Swifties themselves who are interested to see a play about Taylor Swift fans, or people who are interested in the secret life of fandoms and social media. 

Thank you to Theatre South East for sending me to this event! 

Reviewed by Aimee Carney

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