SWIM is a show about wild swimming and grief, as theatremaker Liz Richardson tells the audience at the start. Not her grief, but an unnamed friend's, who started using wild swimming as a way to cope with the pain. This show is not about her, but for her. To help her make a show about swimming on a completely dry stage, Richardson enlisted actors Josie Dale-Jones and Sam Ward, as well as musician Carmel Smickersgill, to bring the feeling of wild swimming to the audience.
Even if the bigger themes aren't fully realised, SWIM is both fun and heartwarming
Using a mix of video, dance, music and storytelling the piece is framed by a trip the foursome took to the Lake District so Dale-Jones and Ward could experience their first wild swim. As they tell us about the trip and their experience, the two actors start questioning Richardson's motives in bringing them onto the project and why she wants to make the show in the first place. It's a question worth asking, even though she stated the purpose of the piece at the beginning. Examining someone else's grief from the outside, and the feeling of helplessness that can evoke, is an interesting subject. Unfortunately both the 'Liz' we see on stage and Richardson the theatremaker are reluctant to answer questions and refuse to dive in too deep. Everytime her companions get too close she shuts down or changes the subject. The mirroring of the wild uncontrollable nature the swimmers have to navigate and the wild uncontrollable power of raw grief is a powerful one, but in the end feels too distant and abstract to really connect.
But even if the bigger themes aren't fully realised, SWIM is both fun and heartwarming. All three actors are sincere and engaging and Smickersgill's beautiful music adds a welcome texture to the show, with soaring melodies recalling the vastness of nature. The video art design by Jim Dawson plays a big part as well and the final image is especially beautiful. SWIM is an uplifting hour, even if Richardson ultimately isn't totally successful in converting her actors into wild swimmers, they don't really get it. But isn't that the point? Even if we're just observers in each other's grief or happiness, what matters most is to be there.