The swimming pool in Govanhill is not only a stunning example of Edwardian civic architecture but a landmark in the community. Locals and celebrities alike have been campaigning against its closure since 2001, and today it opens its doors for the National Theatre of Scotland’s Lifeguard, and Water, Water Everywhere, a collaboration about water and the sharing of memories in celebration of this pool. This further layer of history underlying the baths makes The NTS’s latest offering of ‘theatre without walls’ of heightened social and aesthetic interest.
As an audience we are escorted to cubicles where we strip into our swimwear and leave our personal possessions in lockers. On thin benches around the training pool – filled with water for the first time in eleven years – we sit self consciously, uniformed in our baggy t-shirts and flip-flops. The fear of exposure and anticipation veils itself in nervous chatter which echoes through the heavily chlorinated air, against the cracked tiles.
The aesthetics of the production are rather beautiful. The echoes of the training pool amplify the textures of sound of the water: splashing, dropping, bubbling, spraying our legs. The projections on the water itself and rippling up the walls are mesmerising: forcing us to see this strange and familiar substance in newly appreciative way. Writer, Director and performer Adrian Howells offers an interesting take on the dynamics between teacher and pupil, as Ira Mandela Siobhan slices through the water, with the ease of a sharp blade, transferring his dancing skills to water with a hypnotic grace. We hear stories both from outside the baths and within, the differences between wild swimming contrasting neatly with the bareness and artificiality of our environment, noting how the once animalistic, organic act is now one of sterility, dreamlike echoes and Lycra. There are clever observations intercutting the performance, the conflict of the ‘safe’ atmosphere of a pool, juxtaposed by the danger of water, the line between waving and drowning being washed away. The lifeguard is a force overlooking, testing ourselves to stretch that bit further, go that extra length. The performance is playful, if at times bitty, with the two and then four actors displaying poignantly the four stages of man with water as the constant, enduring yet weightless force.
As the performance proper draws to a close, we are invited to dip our legs into the water and finally join in. We look around at each other nervously. Each wondering who would be first to take the plunge. Then suddenly, as if all at once, a crowd of us are in the pool, and the water sloshes between us acting not as a blanket hiding our bodies but offering weightlessness, our inhibitions evaporating. There is something uniting about the experience; I see a hidden tattoo, a silvered caeseran scar, veined legs, stretch marks and running mascara. Ultimately the experience is humanising, our bodies no longer the objects of expected awkwardness and embarrassment, but fun tools with which can splash each other and aimlessly float. After all, as an audience, we’re all in this together.