The Art of Swimming

Review by Michael Collins | 04 Aug 2007
Solo performances (especially those in intimate studio venues) possess a unique form of intensity for both the performer and the audience, placing demands on both that can all too quickly feel like being put through the job interview from hell. Written and performed by Lynda Radley, The Art of Swimming skilfully avoids all the possible pitfalls and enticing the audience into a brilliant blend of emotion and humour.

Radley’s opening asks you to imagine the world of Mercedes Gleitze, the first British woman to swim the English Channel, inviting you into her psyche as an endurance athlete and the highs and lows of celebrity. As you are taken deeper into the performance however, The Art of Swimming becomes as much a story about Radley’s relationship with Gleitze as it shrugs off the temptation to become simple biography.

What could well have simply been the story of an inspiring athlete becomes a comment on the artistic process as Radley finds herself caught between a desire for the truth and an attachment to her romanticised ideal of Gleitze.

These moments of self-awareness punctuate a play that manages throughout to capture the emotions, sensations and thoughts of a long distance swimmer. Radley’s superb script seamlessly slips between the rhythmically poetic and comedic leaving you laughing as often as it induces moments of near trance, enhanced by the lone accordion, which meanders alongside the performance.

The Art of Swimming is not only a glimpse into the life of Mercedes Gleitze but also that of Radley, reflecting her views on the storytelling as well as a genuine fascination with the subject she first encounters in a lone photograph in a public library in Cork. This makes for a wonderfully warm performance that nonetheless asks questions much deeper than you might expect.