Swimming

Wed 30th July – Mon 25th August 2014

reviews

Georgina Wilson

at 17:28 on 20th Aug 2014

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Nobody actually swims in Jane Upton’s 2011 play Swimming. Nothing actually happens, either; but that’s okay because the plot is less centred on aqua-dynamic movement and more on sexual dynamics. Specifically sexual dynamics between café chef Jack (Jack Bence), and two waitresses Milly (Grace Watts) and Lucy (Jessica Madsen).

All three of the cast members do a good job of portraying their characters in startling contrast. Lucy has a great time shimmying around the café, distracting Jack and tormenting Milly like a smug, Waitrose-fed cat playing with two mice. My only quibble with Lucy is that she remains a flat character; not because of any fault in the acting but because of one in the script. Even when found wandering around on the beach in the middle of the night by Jack, Lucy’s vulnerability seems a token emotion. It’s never explained why she’s alone, drunk and semi-dressed. The scene does little apart from reveal that people who apparently have everything sometimes get sad too.

Milly’s shining moment (quite literally) comes on one of the many night-time scenes on a beach with Jack. Either the beach is very small or Jack wears a high-vis jacket after dusk; as someone who goes to the beach to find some peace and quiet he seems to bump into one of the two waitresses on a surprisingly regular basis. On one particular night, some impetuous rounds of truth or dare lead to Milly being caught in the headlights of Jack’s stolen car, shrieking at him to turn the lights off whilst he revs the engine threateningly at her. The huge torchlight which substitutes for headlamps works remarkably well, as does the metal grille for the sea bed (my heart goes out for Milly and Jack as they edge gingerly across it, creating all the all-too-painful reality of bare feet on a rocky floor).

The scenes on the beach are finished by the lights turning down to a dim blue. Rather than everyone hurridly rushing offstage at the first possible moment, we can see enough to know that the characters always stay on for a few moments longer than is the norm, in character. It’s an effective technique alerting us to the fact that these characters’ lives carry on regardless of scene changes, in keeping with the whole tone of the play which offers itself up very much as a “slice of life”.

As a new piece of writing, with a minimalist cast and an interest in human relations, this play forms much of a muchness with plays at the Fringe. Good thing it’s such a well-acted, engaging, and enjoyable muchness.

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Emily Brearley-Bayliss

at 10:18 on 21st Aug 2014

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Swimming follows the lives of three disillusioned youngsters who live on the Isle of Wight and work in a busy tourist café. As Lucy (Jessica Madsen) and Jack (Jack Bence) make friends with new girl, Milly, (Grace Watts) we are gradually drawn into their world, and learn that none of them are exactly what they seem. They all, in their own way, long to leave the island. This piece of original writing by Jane Upton does a good job of exploring its characters, while maintaining a whimsical, and repetitive melancholy that is in keeping with the constant sound of waves crashing in the background.

The acting in this play is of a generally high standard, but all three performers are occasionally guilty of lapsing into cliché, though this may be down to the script. Lucy is the stereotypical, spoilt rich girl, who is awarded one moment of vulnerability but never really gains proper depth. Though portrayed well by Watts, Milly's complicated relationship with Jack becomes predictable, as do a lot of the events in the play. The repetitive switching between the café and the cliff begin to seem slightly formulaic, though the tediousness of this is clearly supposed to mimic the characters’ boredom.

Jack, however, is a more interesting character. It would have been tempting to make him into the typical tough-guy-with-a-soft-side, but this does not happen. His short monologues in which he recites the rap-style poems he has written are touching and enjoyable to watch, though his fate in the end is, again, slightly predictable. The play is billed as a ‘bittersweet comedy,’ but there are very few funny bits. This is a shame, as the setting of a café in a busy tourist town provides a good platform for comedic moments.

The staging of this show is one of its strongest aspects. A combination of clever and atmospheric lighting, setting and sound effects, along with the punchy hip-hop music that accompanies the scene changes make the show truly interesting and enjoyable. With a little more depth to the characters, and a few more surprising plot points, this show has the potential to be great. There is definitely scope to make this show funnier, which would be a good edition, as it is not quite powerful enough to hold its own as a completely serious piece of theatre.

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