Swimming at the White Bear Theatre
Swimming is a new play by Alex Bower. Despite being developed over several years, this production was workshopped and rehearsed for just one week preceding tonight’s performance. The programme informs us this is an opportunity for the team to get the play “in front of a live audience”, but that they intend to develop it further. In light of tonight’s show, this is both a relief and a frustration: a relief in that the piece needs additional work, but a frustration that it wasn’t pitched this way.
The story follows Dan (Andrew Hawley), who recently quit his job in finance and left his girlfriend of three years, Marianne (Harriet Green). Dan is lost – he doesn’t know who he is – but a chance encounter at a swimming pool introduces Sam (Patrick Cavendish) into his life. It’s unclear how they met but one can surmise that Sam, the braver of the two, made first contact.
It’s difficult to enjoy a play in which three out of four characters are socially deplorable. Dan is essentially morally bankrupt, his transgressions too numerous to list here. Morality aside, the transgressions span into his vocal performance as one wonders whether the protagonist’s wavering accent is a metaphor for his constantly changing identity. When he’s with Sam, his voice is stilted, affecting a macho persona – yet with Marianne and his friend Ant (Jack Helsby) speech comes more fluidly.
Ant is equally confusing: is he a lad or a gentleman? He shows revealing flashes of both, but all honour is eviscerated when he kisses a drunk and clearly troubled Marianne. Previously, we picked up undertones of creepiness – he invited Marianne to live with him, presumably just to sleep with her. Now Ant is confirmed as sinister. For her part, Marianne has been crushed by Dan, a complete man-child, and yet still incomprehensibly seeks his attention. She continually explains herself, without ever needing to. He broke your heart, Marianne; just move on.
The only character deserving of sympathy is Sam, who, despite not being fleshed out (we find out he’s pursuing an MA in screenwriting in the play’s final minutes – wait, he has an identity beyond being gay?) is at least kind and thoughtful in his dialogue. He forms the play’s sole redemption character-wise.
Swimming seeks to explore breakups, sexuality and the challenge of forging a new identity. It’s true, tonight’s characters are floundering in possible selves – but the waters are nearly all surface, too shallow for any constructive swim.
Photo: Alex Brenner
Swimming is at the White Bear Theatre from 30th April until 4th May 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.