Liz Richardson's Swim highlights the refreshing and ever-growing discipline of wild swimming. She takes two theatremakers on their first dip into the icy waters. Daniel Perks reviews:

Liz Richardson goes wild swimming as often as she can, every day if possible. It’s her opportunity to take stock, her space, her “me-time”. And yet she started to Swim with a grieving friend, a supportive presence when words are not enough.

Swim is not about this friend. But it is for her. It’s for Richardson too – for anyone who can take something positive from the feeling of plunging into icy cold water, with the startling clarity that the only important thing right then is to swim, to move, to stay alive.

Swim Pleasance Courtyard
Josie Dale-Jones, Sam Ward & Liz Richardson

Richardson’s show, co-performed with Josie Dale-Jones, Sam Ward and Carmel Smickersgill is an earnest, grounded and humble relationship with nature. It’s the physical embodiment of Richardson’s passion, generosity and openness in sharing an experience with the other three theatremakers. And there’s a true collaborative, ensemble vibe in Swim – Richardson may be the leader, but this performance art is co-created rather than dictated. It’s warming and refreshing, despite its icy cold subject material.

Swim Pleasance Courtyard
Liz Richardson

As Smickersgill’s sanguine, serenading music washes over the Swim soundscape, the three approach that first wild outing with a gentle, positive attitude. Despite the show not being about the friend, her presence is felt in that initial trip and the subsequent breakout monologues. The reason for the grief is unimportant but alluded to, with Richardson opening the floodgates of anger when rallying against the injustice of it all in an intense, explosive burst. The juxtaposition of hot, spiky rage is well tempered by the cooling, aquatic background.

There are theatrical devices within Swim that are typical of ThisEgg and YESYESNONO’s work, and so the collaborative presence of Dale-Jones and Ward are keenly felt here too. But while creatively interesting, the production would be better served here by focussing more on the core story. Richardson is a generous and diplomatic theatremaker, bringing multiple ideas together under the one umbrella. Sometimes this clouds the message. Sometimes less is more.

Swim Pleasance Courtyard
Josie Dales-Jones & Sam Ward

Nevertheless, the energy provided by the onstage Swim quartet is complementary and positive. The show is constructed with diligence and care, ensuring that it balances the values of an ever-growing wild swimming community, with the personal experience of Richardson, with the theatrical integrity of Dale-Jones, Ward and Smickersgill. Swim is not about any of these groups. But it is for them all.

★★★☆☆

Swim is now playing at Pleasance Courtyard until 26 August 2019. For more information or to buy tickets, please visit the festival website.