HOME Theatre, Manchester; Tuesday 9th July, 2019
The day has not yet begun, but she’s going for a swim. She will swim in the cold waters of the lake, it will help her to heal, maybe it will also help her to forget.
Theatre maker Liz Richardson has been on secret swimming trips, but not just to the local pool: these are wild swimming adventures, out in the open, exposed to the elements. A new hobby it seems, though one which, below the surface, appears to be as deep and mysterious as the open waters in which she’s swimming.
Swim is an elegantly gliding vessel of theatrical documentary-making – one which primarily makes an appealing and convincing case for taking a cold plunge; but one which also dives a lot deeper in order to examine the submerged mandate for doing it in the first place.
Already an esteemed theatrical creative herself, Liz’s aquatic triumvirate comprises of two other theatre makers (Josie Dale-Jones and Sam Ward) – a task force assembled with the mission of bobbing the message-in-a-bottle of wild swimming under the noses of theatre audiences.
The moodscapes created during Swim are extraordinary. A video projection consumes the entire back wall – on it play artful clips of lakeside scenes, horizons of thoughtful mist, still waters that struggle to move.
On-screen our intrepid swimmers tip toe into the murky cold waters, perspective changes draw them off into the distance, they shrink away in size as well as through dramatic submersion into the grey waters – it feels as if they’re taking the secret of swimming with them?
The narrative delivered by the cast adds more, much more. There is tantalising talk of dark pink skies; talk of the evocative smells of grass and dew; and even contemplation of the amusing possibility that, in their early-hour forays, no one else on Earth is yet awake.
The physiological impacts of cold-water swimming are alluded to on multiple occasions, most particularly in video clips of the excited drive-home chatter about feeling a glowing warmth. There seems to be something in this.
The swim is about the experience, says Liz. And Swim the show is most definitely an experience, especially when the outstanding musical composition work of Carmel Smickersgill starts flooding the sub-consciousness.
The musical arrangements are delivered live, through mixing of electronic loops but also with live instrumentation. The style and nature of the composition suit the show and its themes so perfectly – a heady ambience of indie folk that would possibly be the very thing you might listen to if listening to music while swimming was an actual thing.
Josie and Sam say they didn’t quite get it. On several occasions the show switches from a dreamy manifestation of wild swimming to a much more literal and introspective conversation between the cast members.
These switches slightly disrupt the flow, they come across as being a tiny bit over-indulgent – though this is probably an inevitable consequence of luring three theatre-making fish together into the net that is new-show creativity.
Take the plunge
We learn during the performance that Liz’s wild swimming expeditions began through a friend who apparently used them to deal with grief and bereavement. Liz explains that the grief element of the show is not literally about the friend with whom she swims, the show is instead for her friend.
We don’t learn any more about Unknown Friend, and nothing more is learnt about the grief and loss that inspired the show. These details remain unexplained, echoing, perhaps, the fact that grief itself is so unexplained. In a way they don’t need to be explained, we can understand where this is coming from.
Two contrasting emotions are wrung out of Swim: there is a deeply romantic allure to the wild swimming being described and portrayed, a hypnotic and irresistible pull on the senses; but that battles against the natural fear and aversion to the grief which is suggested as the motive for the outdoor excursions. There is a deep desire to plunge feet-first into one; but a fear of the drowning suffocation from the other.
The result is an experience that seems to make sense – though in an abstract way. Wild swimming looks great, but grief is bad. Wild swimming could do you great harm, but then so could the impact of grief. Maybe, if you’re already at a low, it might just make sense to literally take the plunge and slide all the way in, it might make climbing out a bit easier.
|Visual pleasure||Full of mood-inducing video clips that played out on a giant cloth hung from the back wall. Wonderfully atmospheric sequences showing lakeside scenes and the swimmers themselves taking to the cold water. All brought to life by the cast’s physical movements on stage.||4|
|Auditory pleasure||Beautiful ambience created by Carmel Smickersgill’s innovative composition. A mixture of live mixing of loops and the occasional burst of guitar-led singing, the whole ambience was just so relaxed and inspiring. Perfect music for swimming to really.||5|
|Architecture & Theme||A great idea for a show, and so cleverly put together, though the switches between the “swim” theme and the “grief” theme felt a little harsh at times, changing the mood too abruptly, and perhaps too often.||4|
|Artistic delivery||Three, strong leading performances backed up brilliantly by a musical accompaniment. Josie Dale-Jones and Sam Ward seemed to be happy in their roles as swimming guinea pigs to Liz Richardson’s lead protagonism, the on-stage narratives and on-screen evidence never quite seemed to emphatically demonstrate Josie and Sam’s true feelings on Liz’s passion, which added a nice layer of intrigue to the whole thing.||4|
|Overall impact||A very personal and intimate foray into the driving factors behind someone else’s passion. A hobby that most people would probably shy away from gets put across as an irresistibly alluring prospect that has to be tried and experienced.||4|
|0||Detrimental – This aspect of the performance was so bad that it made the overall experience worse|
|1||Weak – This aspect of the performance was poor|
|2||Adequate – This aspect of the performance was perfectly acceptable, though nothing special|
|3||Good – This aspect of the performance was above average, it pleased in some way|
|4||Excellent – This aspect of the performance was much better than normal, it was impressive|
|5||Awe-inspiring – This aspect of the performance was exceptional, new boundaries were pushed.|