There are shades of Ali Smith in Full Rogue’s winningly playful new piece. You can hear it in the sometimes erudite, often earthy back-and-forth between Oscar (Annabel Baldwin) and Nell (Alice Lamb). It’s buried inside the winking, slippery gender politics – watching Baldwin and Lamb struggle in and out of corsets and breeches between each scene like they’re full-on wrestling with outdated concepts of gender and sex. It peeks out from the verbal anachronisms – Horn knows how to seamlessly knit colourful and cheerful swears into dialogue, much like Smith, and it’s a consistent source of delight.
Oscar and Nell exist both outside and inside time, slipping through the centuries like a shoal of silver fish shimmering in the sunlight. We begin in the late 16th century, then skip to the 18th, then the 20th, and finally present day, and things change incrementally, but things also stay resolutely, depressingly the same. Nell comes from a rich family, but she’s a woman, and she’s bored and stifled and goes down to her family’s beach to masturbate – until times free up and she begins to write. Oscar is a university student with grand ideas about swimming and writing and the Hellespont and enjoys pontificating to Nell about his theories without actually doing anything with them and, to be quite frank, reminds me of some (all) of my ex-boyfriends (far more charming, though). It’s appealingly ambitious stuff from a sprightly young company, skipping through the archives of time with all the ease of shrugging off a towel and dashing into the sea.
There is an effusive, contagious sense of buoyancy in Wild Swimming, a lot of which comes from Lamb and Baldwin’s easy, improvisatory rapport with the audience. “Oh God, the ocean’s leaked onto your bag,” they shout when they discover that one of their prop water guns is dripping onto an audience member’s possessions. “Hope no reviewers are in today!” It’s all incredibly fucking charming – Julia Head’s direction gives Lamb and Baldwin room to be loose and messy, but is precise when it needs to hit certain emotional beats. And sure, there are some classic hallmarks of an emerging experimental company – French pop songs, ironic dance moves, a moment in the final scene where the performers break out of the play – but it’s hard to be cynical when you’re having this much fun. Also, I love all those things and I never get bored of them.
Horn’s writing is gorgeously supple, even if the text’s desire for swiftness can lend itself to a certain slightness when it comes to the contextual historical stuff – references to Byron in the 18th Century, to Philip Sidney in the 16th, etcetera – then again, there’s a sly knowingness to those obvious touchstones which makes it difficult to properly take issue. It’s all handled with relaxed dexterity, like rolling a smooth pebble around in your hands. And really, the relationship between Oscar and Nell is where the production properly soars. Lamb and Baldwin are achingly believable, their chemistry sparkling, their relationship fully worn in and well-trodden. It is a pure sugar-hit of joy to listen to them rip the absolute shit out of each other. They are best friends and soulmates and they love each other and hate each other and are jealous of each other and resent each other but they love each other, they love each other, they love each other. That fundamental remains the same, even if time slips around them like soap suds.
Wild Swimming is on at 12.45pm at Pleasance Courtyard until 26th August, as part of the 2019 Edinburgh fringe. More info and tickets here.