Edinburgh Fringe 2019
There is this lake. And in the lake, there’s a woman. She’s swimming. She finds the pain is less, to remember him in the water. Liz took Sam and Josie swimming. She said they’d feel amazing. It was cold. It was really cold. Swim is a brand new show from theatre makers Liz Richardson, Josie Dale-Jones and Sam Ward. With live music, videography and playful, intimate storytelling, Swim is about isolation, being held and just jumping in.
This was a dreamy piece of Fringe Theatre. Grief is a mercurial thing; difficult to catch and put in a cage to examine, difficult to put into words and even more difficult to explain to strangers in a Fringe show. You either thrust your audience into it fully, leaving no doubt. Or you build it up slowly, drop them in gently. Swim, leads us by the hand, through silky watery ripples and floating pond weed, we need to leave our doubt and overthinking at the shore and just follow.
Being right in the middle of a bubbling boiling Fringe sea of loud, bright and fast performances all around, this show held its own with calm grace. Taking its time, no rush, to need to over impress the audience or rush to the gritty emotions of the piece. And as a cold all year round swimmer myself, I felt this was a bit of genius in the show’s creation. That the performance felt exactly like how it feels to go for a cold quiet swim. Those pauses and that breathing fast and the jittery unknown. The child like grins and the jumping about with playful joy. The solemn still moments sipping hot tea from a Thermos flask, watching the water, tingling all over, thoughtful, elated but sometimes wistful too. Because it’s in these precious moments where there is finally room to feel. It’s all in there.
This show told us it was about isolation, being held and just jumping in. About grief. But not ‘about’ grief. This show takes us into the gentle dialogue about the magic of swimming, that it’s so much more than exercise or a hobby. That is there something deeply primal and connected in the act of surrendering to water. This is a show for ‘her’.
This elegant show was an accessible and tender piece of theatre. The combination of live music and a relaxed naturalist storytelling style, each member of the cast facing towards the audience and taking turns to tell the story. Most of the time feeling like they were all sitting round a Farmhouse kitchen table with us and chatting. There was a breathless moment where the show seemed to stand still, as Liz lay panting after her roaring explosion of angry frustration, her wetsuit now a unhappy prison under the hot spotlight, the other members of the cast sit patient and attentive – bearing witness to her pain – asking if they can do anything for her. There was something unique and tender about this moment, almost as if the play had been put on pause, and Liz was going off script and the lines between performance and personal felt murky. She asked for a glass of water, panting. She lay on her side, said she didn’t even have the strength to hold the microphone. This felt like a very awake moment, teetering on the edge of horror, as grief can often feel. But also very important, that the truth of the story was in this very moment.
The gentle simple naturalism of the performers gave a subtlety to this work that allowed concepts and emotions and possibilities to swirl around the narrative. There was a sense of safety about this atmosphere they created, a warm feeling of friendship. Many wild swimmers will tell you this is a huge part of the experience.
The soundscape of live music, singing, visual creative images and ethereal interpretations of being fully immersed in water together with pre-recorded unscripted conversations, that included questions they asked of Liz about why making a show about swimming was important to her built up layer by layer, the texture of the performance. We watched the video of the performer’s real life chatter, as teeth chattered after the group’s first cold swim together. We laughed in solidarity and knowing.
It took its time this piece of work. Sometimes it felt like the long, awkward, graceless experience of taking off a damp wetsuit on a cold day. And I loved it for this. I felt myself sighing into this show in recognition. I felt emotional and thoughtful and longing to get in the cold water too. They took a risk with this show. And it paid off.