Brighton Fringe 2010
A Swim Through Time
Brighton Swimming Club, Brighton Dolphin Synchro Team
Venue: Prince Regent Swimming Pool
A skilled display of synchronised swimming (sometimes called water ballet) from the Brighton Dolphin Synchro Team and dramatised events from the 150 – year history of Brighton swimming club
The show began with a gentleman introducing us to members of 3 families who have an unbroken line in Brighton swimming club membership. He then went on to tell us about the history of the club and all the places in which it has been located, illustrated by slides of scenes from the club’s past, taken in various locations including the beach, which were projected onto a large screen behind him. This was followed by the first of nine themed swimming displays, set to music from Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘Mikado’ and performed by a young female team in the style and costumes of the Victorian era to illustrate the club’s beginnings. The narrator then gave us more facts and figures and the rules of water polo (originally known as water football) before the next tribute; a 1920’s water polo ballet performed by both men and women and set to the music of Scott Joplin’s’ ‘The Entertainer’. This format was followed throughout the show, with historical detail given in between each of the set pieces which took us through the club’s 150-year history right up to the present day. In addition to the two pieces already mentioned these included a 1930’s pier to pier race, a 1940’s tribute to Busby Berkley and Esther Williams, an account of the 1950-s life saving belles and bottom scratchers, a 1960’s ‘strictly tribute to Come Dancing’, 1970’s stroke development, 1980’s and 90’s Swimming to France and a present day ‘Good night ‘ swim.
This was a highly original show with real passion and vision which communicated very well at times but was sometimes obscured by poor writing and presentation. The performances of the swimmers themselves varied in technical ability depending on their age and experience. Some were very young and just starting out; others were part of the national synchronised swimming team and were performed breathtakingly beautiful and expertly choreographed routines with real skill and expertise. Some of the scenes involved comedy acting; in one a tourist was accidentally pushed into the water in order to be rescued by a Brighton belle lifeguard , and in another swimmers pretended to be a shark, some floating rubbish and a seagull by pulling inflatable toys and some empty milk cartons along whilst they were underwater . Most of the performances involved a huge amount of skill and effort and, as with circus artists, remembering to smile was a skill mostly shown by the more experienced performers.
The staging and design were dictated by the environment of the venue. There was lighting, including a spot, which was effective for the second half of the show once the daylight had stopped coming in through the glass panels in the roof. The sound came from a small portable P.A system which produced enough volume for the narrator but there was a lot of echo in the venue so some of the music, especially the 1940’s jazz piece and the tribute to Come Dancing, sounded distorted. There were a few minor technical errors with unexplained gaps in the music. However the main problem with the Prince Regent as a venue was the temperature the audience were required to sit in for an hour. It really was very hot indeed and reminiscent of watching a spectacle whilst on holiday somewhere in a tropical climate!
The writing and performance style of the narrator were very dry. My 12 year old companion announced ‘ he sounds like he’s reading from Wikipedia’ and I found myself agreeing with her; although the facts and anecdotes were relevant and interesting, it came across more like a lecture than a performance. Something written to entertain as well as inform would have been more appropriate to fit in with what the performers were aiming for, acted in a dynamic style rather than read from a script.
Some of the scenes were really very moving as they were performed not by actors, but the actual people involved. The slide of the Brighton Belles lifesaving team from the 1950’s was followed by the real life belles, now in their 70’s, coming out to take a bow – and the only woman to complete the cross -channel swim at one point re-created her performance which was also very emotional. The audience clearly enjoyed seeing these real-life heroines and gave them a lot of support.
All in all this show scored very highly on originality and the excellence of the swimmers’ performances but was let down by unimaginative narration and scriptwriting.