25 March 2004 - 15 May 2004

Evening Performances:
Monday - Saturday 7.30pm

Saturday Matinees:
3, 10, 17, 24 April, 1, 8 and 15 May 3.30pm

Mid-Week Matinees:
29 April 3.30pm

Royal Court Theatre

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1st April 2004 - What's on Stage Review
2 stars (out of 5)

Sweetest Swing in Baseball
Venue: Royal Court - Jerwood Theatre
Where: West End

You canít help but suspect that Rebecca Gilman must have been deeply wounded once by a review. Although The Sweetest Swing in Baseball concerns a painter rather than a playwright, it appears to tap into some very personal feelings about critical, and other forms of professional, rejection.

The sense of semi-autobiography in Ian Ricksonís premiere production is heightened by the casting of Gillian Anderson as depressive artist Dana Fielding, who attempts suicide after the mediaís mauling of her latest exhibition. Andersonís 2002 West End debut in What the Night Is For proved popular with audiences - who voted her Best Actress in last yearís Whatsonstage.com Theatregoersí Choice Awards Ė but it didnít go down well with the critics.

While that experience hardly drove the former X Files star into a mental asylum, itís easy to imagine how it could fill her with the extra venom here to really spit out lines about not being ďa player until you playĒ. Certainly, the final moment on opening night Ė when her character, assuming the questionable persona of Afro-American baseball star and bad boy Darryl Strawberry, glares defiantly at the press-packed audience and dismisses them as Ďfuckers!í Ė takes on an added acerbity.

It would be all the sweeter then if I could report that Andersonís return to the London stage will silence any detractors. However, her vindication is only partially realised with Sweetest Swing . Undoubtedly, this is a striking performer and, in the opening scenes in particular, face gaunt, eyes shimmering on the verge of tears, she makes a strong impression as an artist in the grip of self-doubt.

But the subsequent proceedings of Gilmanís script Ė in which Fielding, finding solace in the psychiatric ward, cooks up a multiple personality disorder to fool her insurance company into paying for a longer stay - lets Anderson down. Aside from some group room banter with a recovering alcoholic (a chirpy Demetri Goritsas) and a tranquillised but still cranky celebrity-stalking sociopath (played amusingly deadpan by John Sharian), itís never clear how Andersonís sensitive creative soul benefits from being institutionalised.

Even less clear, especially to baseball ignorant London audiences, is why the unseen Strawberry becomes such a beacon for her. And, when sheís inspired to paint a series of bat-wielding chickens and those paintings (which weíre only ever able to see the blank canvas backs of on Hildegard Bechtlerís minimal workshop-style set) are hailed by the establishment as masterpieces, the unclear skids quickly into the unbelievable.

Perhaps Gilman is aiming for satire. There are some wry lines and the supporting castís attempts to inject energetic humour into their deliveries would suggest so, but it never quite comes together.

Iíd hate to mangle metaphors but here goes: Sweetest Swing isnít exactly a strike-out for either Gilman or Anderson, but itís far from a home run. Foul ball then?

- Terri Paddock