‘Swarm’ at VAULT Festival review – Liv Ello’s fly-on-the-wall farce is relentless and unflinching


Who knew the dire state of UK politics over multiple decades could be so perfectly explained through several species of flies? Fresh from a successful run at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, theatremaker and “anarchist clown” Liv Ello’s Swarm doesn’t pause for one moment as it rips into the housing crisis, racial injustice and the dehumanising language used around migrants and asylum seekers. It flies between damning subject matters like a riotous whiplash, leaving audiences buzzing with excitement and anger in equal measure.

It’s title is taken from comments about migrants journeying across the Mediterranean made by former prime minister David Cameron to ITV News in 2015, but how shameful it is that this could so easily be about Priti Patel, or even more so Suella Braverman, who infamously told a Holocaust survivor to her face last month that she wouldn’t apologise for the language she uses to describe the migrant crisis. There’s already a timeliness and urgency to the topic at hand, before Ello makes their chaotic entrance.

They’re wearing a fly costume, because of course, and with a projector behind them undermining or emphasising their dialogue with a statistic, fact or comment. We’re used to fact-checking more casually in the news more broadly, but when they’re being presented almost every other sentence, the scale of the mess in which we find ourselves is slightly unsettling. Some of the clips which flash up on the screen depict fascist marches; destruction of refugee camps; and footage of Alan Kurdi dead on the beach, forever etched into our memories. We should be outraged. Why aren’t we outraged?

Cue “Superman” by Black Lace, an absurd sideshow which seems to offer an answer: we are too distracted by something else provided to us by the swarming political class to focus on what’s important, while the many issues they have created for us are shifted onto the “swarms” of migrants or asylums as scapegoats.

It’s trickery as subversive as Ello’s exaggerative and hyperbolic humour, and they are deft at repurposing this tactic to guide the audience along, constantly disarming us with wacky audience participation and the spillage of beer into the crowd, before hitting us with one of many gut-punches about the state of the nation. Their final spoken word monologue is lyrical and electric.

If the introduction of yet another fly species metaphor feels repetitive or cyclical to you, then that’s rather the point. Every election cycle, we are the flies attracted to Tory crap we just can’t seem to pull ourselves away from, no matter how dirty and uncomfortable our indifference makes us feel. In the fresh and fierce farce that is Swarm, Ello passionately brings us to our senses.

Swarm is now playing at VAULT Festival until 10 February.

Production Images: Thomas Moen.

Disclaimer: I was invited to watch ‘Swarm’ for free in exchange for a review of the performance as a member of the press. I did not receive payment for this article and all opinions stated above are honest and my own.

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