Edinburgh Fringe 2019
Wild Swimming is an irreverent exploration of gender dynamics as seen through the shifting relationship of two people over 400 years of history.
The poster should give it away. A woman in renaissance costume standing on a Dorset beach… with a packet of wotsits in hand.
Wild Swimming is an irreverent exploration of gender dynamics as seen through the shifting relationship of two people – Nell (Alice Lamb) and Oscar (Annabel Baldwin) over 400 years of history.
Time is somewhat elastic in this world. At first it’s 1595 or maybe 1610. Oscar has returned from university and bored, gentried Nell is on a perpetual “gap yaar”. Then it’s the early 1800s, or perhaps a little later (the recent publication of Jane Eyre placing us in the 1840s). Nell and Oscar rock up again in the 1920s, after a war that Oscar has, “literally”, been in. And again, nearer today.
We see how social and cultural mores change over time. As the freedoms and responsibilities of men and women alter, the tensions between Nell and Oscar shift. There is frustration and rivalry; attraction yet distance, and a kind of awkward companionship.
Marek Horn’s text is clever, and infused with its own poetry, suggestive of that written by both Nell and Oscar (with varying degrees of success).
The dialogue is modern throughout. The dissonance this creates is especially effective in the older scenes; Nell is socially constrained by family expectations, but her thoughts and language are informed by feminism. Lamb infuses her with a fizzing irritation. Baldwin’s Oscar seems initially arrogant, but shows more vulnerability as each new era brings its own expectations and disappointments. Both bring a tender clowning to their roles.
Julia Head’s direction is relentlessly playful, squeezing the juice out of theatrical possibility. Loud pop music plays as we enter, and repeats during the scene changes, as Lamb and Baldwin manically change costumes. The fourth wall hardly exists – or has become the edge of an ocean. There is some charming audience interaction and ad-libbing, the improvised nature of the play becoming more prominent as we move closer to the modern day. There is ironic period dancing, fake swimming, squirted water….. and a lot of snacks.
Zoë Brennan’s neat design gives the actors a slippery beach, a shimmering azure backdrop and a clothes rail of period costumes (on which it seems Baldwin might have forgotten to hang one particular outfit).
Joseff Harris’s sound is delightful, although the scene change music could have been a little quieter as the ad libs were hard to hear from the back. The choice of the McGarrigle’s Swimming Song as outro music is a nice touch.
The modern day scene is a little foreshortened by the breaking of form at the end of the play, and this leaves the overall shape of the narrative a little unresolved. But it is a small price to pay for a charmingly wild piece of feminist theatre.
Wild Swimming is at the Pleasance Courtyard at 12.45 until 26 August