Reviews NationalSalford Published 11 February 2021

Review: Swimming Home at The Lowry, Salford (online)

5-20 February, then touring

Diluted content: James Varney reviews an audio piece to be experienced in the bathroom that slips through the fingers.

James Varney
Swimming Home by Silvia Mercuriali. Film still: Susanne Dietz.

Swimming Home by Silvia Mercuriali. Film still: Susanne Dietz.

There’s a moment of theatrical transformative potential buried somewhere in the middle of Swimming Home. I’m asked to float the lid from a shower gel bottle in the water in front of me, then to close my eyes and spread my arms; I am a seagull. Open my eyes, look down on the boat floating below me. That’s cute. I can get behind that, leading your aural audience through the creation of images, gestures, sculptures, then inviting them to transform what they have created through imagination. But this only really happens that once.

I’m first rendered cynical by Swimming Home’s sound production. At the start I am addressed by an unintelligible underwater voice, which I assume is deliberately indecipherable and I realise too late has been giving me instructions. Once I turn my shower on, as instructed, the instructions are too quiet to hear over the sound of water. When I turn the volume on my phone up in response, the text suddenly shifts to an obnoxiously loud shouting which hurts my ears. Soon after this, I become more cynical still when the voice in my ears asks me to step into my shower with my headphones on, plugged into my phone. I don’t.

There are two versions of the show, one for baths and one for showers. I can’t comment on the version for the bath but perhaps it feels less of an afterthought than this version. I’m supposed to play with the water pooled in my shower but the water runs down the drain. I compromise by filling my sink and using the water there to play with. The alternative would be squatting awkwardly in my shower if there was a way to keep the water there, which I don’t think I would have enjoyed anyway.

Standing in front of my mirror I am asked to consider how my body is adapted to swimming. The direction of hair on my torso and arms, the way my nose protects my nostrils, the subtle webbing between my fingers. This theme leaves suddenly as it arrived and I’m soon plashing in the sink, pretending I am creating waves in the sea. Again, the idea of playing with water, following instructions through my headphones, is cute. And I play with the water but I don’t understand why I need someone telling me to. There are no further moments where something unexpected happens; this is just water in a sink.

I can’t say really what Swimming Home is about. It talks around water in a mash of disparate contexts, a scattered buffet of scratchy thoughts. The text moves from bathroom to swimming pool to plumbing to waterfalls to cocktails to seagulls to mermaids to cave paintings and it feels like a list of things with a technical link to water. Water is a cosmetic glue, which on a surface level links the concepts we are talked through but there’s nothing beneath. The piece is peppered with extracts from interviews, their subjects talking about swimming baths familiar to them. When they pop up, these remind me that the piece started out being about swimming baths.

I don’t know why these people’s voices are important to the piece. Sure, a swimming pool is one place we can find water, but so is a trough, or a cucumber. Whatever journey it is I am taken on, nothing sticks to me, the whole show runs off my skin.

I suppose I feel unconnected, listening to Swimming Home. There are other people out there, listening at the same time as I am – and a string of others through the past and future who will visit this same loose and watery place. But I don’t feel them there. I’m in my bathroom, sat on my own listening to a series of thoughts which make me feel more disconnected, which remind me that what I am really doing is sitting alone, mostly naked, growing cold.

Swimming Home runs until 20th February via The Lowry, then from 21st February to 6th March at Cambridge Junction. More info here.

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James Varney

James is a writer and theatre maker, based in the middle parts of England. He has created work with Daniel Bye, Josh Coates and Lenni Sanders and had work presented at Derby Theatre, The Royal Exchange, Manchester Literature Festival, Live at LICA and Camden People’s Theatre. James enjoys Peanut Butter, DIY Punk and Long Walks On The Beach.

Review: Swimming Home at The Lowry, Salford (online) Show Info


Directed by Silvia Mercuriali

Cast includes Silvia Mercuriali, Sam Booth, Simon Kane

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