The sea has inspired fear, dread, awe or hope in many a work of literature. Menagerie Theatre’s piece of new writing, Swimming, draws on all of these and more in a thoughtful and believable tale in a beach cafe on the Isle of Wight. In a well-crafted performance of two teenage waiters and their sandwich chef, the English Channel becomes either an image of escape or one of stasis and hopelessness.
As a whole, the story arc is also hindered by quite predictable, yet heavily-emphasised sexual dynamics.
The acting should certainly be praised: it is wholly convincing and idiosyncratic, individually and in the interactions between the two actors. What the writing does do well is showcase each role’s many sides and allow the actors much breadth. While no cataclysmic plot-event occurs, the personal arc of each character feels fully established. There is a creeping realisation of each character’s likely fate and chances of happiness; its completion in the piece’s rather quiet ending feels like the heaviest of blows.
Moving? Certainly. But something is off with the script, even if the play doesn’t flounder. There is a sense of lines or character traits being forced; the actors have to overtly state their desires or thoughts in order to get the message across in a way not in keeping with the down-to-earth, kitchen-sink realism in the majority of the piece. One character’s disturbing sexual demands are played as completely normal, despite being far in excess of social propriety in their everyday situation. The actors’ believable interactions end up having to work against the lines.
As a whole, the story arc is also hindered by quite predictable, yet heavily-emphasised sexual dynamics. Thankfully this is offset by the strength of the performance, the structure somewhat sinking into the background of the actors’ individual triumphs.
Most scenes end on a weak line – easily amended – or a punchline that garners few laughs, much like many of the jokes. (An overly honest parody of a tourist’s guide to the Isle of Wight is a welcome exception to this). However, the play is not too reliant on comic attempts, so this weakness affects the show less than it could.
As an early draft, Swimming has much merit. As a script actually put on stage, perhaps a bit less so. There is little at fault in the production itself. The action is polished; the two areas of set are well-designed and used so; a slow descent to the beach across two meters of stage space is beautifully particular; the bulbs and flickers of scene changes are hauntingly pretty, albeit accompanied by music of simply pretentious awe. Should the writer make some edits, or attempt another play in the future, this reviewer would certainly recommend seeing it.