The Art of Swimming

The Playgroup presents The Art of Swimming, a marvellous performance piece presented by the effervescent Lynda Radley.

The show, which originally premiered at the Arches and later the Fringe is reworked here for the Citizen’s intimate circle studio. Here, Radley tells the story of Mercedes Gleitze, who in 1927 became the first British woman to swim across the English Channel. Through small sounds, actions and silences, the enchanting artist weaves an intricate spell, recreating the lonely isolation that comes with being a swimmer, a female athlete and ultimately, a celebrity.

To dramatize these events, miniature props are coupled with Radley’s own requests for the audience to use their imagination. Together, the spectators embark on a journey that spans the drudgery of an office, where Gleitze was a typist. We then follow on to her forays at Brighton beach, where she first learned to swim, before we find ourselves collectively on the long, cold swim across the water.

The understated musical score by Michael John McCarthy, nicely complements Radley’s quirky presentation. But the story does not end here. As the piece unfolds, it becomes clear that the play’s message extends far beyond the obvious biographical surface.

As we progress, we come to the realisation that the piece is equally about Radley’s obsession with the late swimmer and her desire to relate to or in some way compare herself to her grand acts. By reconciling her own personal experiences with those of Gleitze, she manages to make a profound statement about the pressures that have faced women historically, before drawing this out into a bigger statement about humanity more generally speaking.

In the end, the writer and actress leaves us with a final message, which suggests that there is great joy to be found in the spontaneous and surreal facets of our living. Lynda Radley is a gifted woman. Rarely does one find a performer able to engage this well with a theatre audience.

– Omar Kholeif