One thing it is hard to do whilst experiencing a performance in the bath is to take notes, which is just as well. Banishing the critical internal voice for the evening was just what was required for ‘Swimming Home’, a 35-minute performance for an audience of one, experienced through headphones and in the audience member’s own bathroom.
Swimming is something I sorely miss from the pre-covid times. In the current lockdown the sea is not close enough to be considered local, the Exe River is in it’s winter flood and I have not been in a position to use a public swimming pool since March 2020. Outdoor pools were always my first choice when open water could not be accessed, such as Hampton Pool, South West London where my primary school held their swimming galas every Summer, or the hidden-in-plain-sight pool at the Council-owned Leisure Centre over the road from the Shaftsbury Theatre just off Tottenham Court Road – right in the centre of London. I would often swim there very early in the morning and sometimes share porridge afterwards with a friend, on my way to work in Covent Garden. Goggle marks and that hot trickle of water running down my neck from my ear became a common feature of morning meetings.
“I am not alone in craving that unique post-swim feeling”
Swimming and being in the water to me have never just about exercise, there is something indefinable about moving through the water and the unique way it connects the mind and the body, a benefit beyond the physical movement itself. I know I am not alone in craving that unique post-swim feeling, emerging dripping and sometimes chilly but refreshed and revitalised; “Swimming Home” speaks to those of us who share in this.
Silvia Mercuriali, the creator and central performer, plays with our relationship to water and swimming through a blend of storytelling, mindfulness and active participation. The fact we are 60% water she muses, might have something to do with our intrinsic desire to be surrounded by it. The piece takes it’s name from the short story by John Cheever’s, “The Swimmer” (listen out for a clip), in which a suburban man chooses to throw off his things and ‘swim home’, alone. The focus of the writing, as with Mercuriali’s piece, is on the mental state to be found from the act. I was more than ready and willing to try anything, to don my headphones, surrender, and immerse myself, leaving my notebook, pen and phone safely out of harm’s reach.
As audience members, we are also invited to be performers in our own little scenes, directed by Mercuriali. There is a dress code (a swimsuit and goggles) and props required (a towel, a plug, a bottle top). The setting is the bath but we are instructed to run it but not get in – yet.
“it’s not the sea, it’s not a pool but it is bliss”
Although we are alone in our bathrooms, a sense of a water-loving community is built through sharing clips from other swimmers she has interviewed. They recall the last time they swam, the first pools they remember from childhood and what swimming feels like for them. Then slowly, tantalisingly we are introduced to the water in our bathroom. We swish our hands about it making waves with childlike delight, we watch the water drip from our fingertips and the ripples we make, we hover a foot over the water then lower it slowly. Entering the bath is the climax of a long and meditative prelude; it’s not the sea, it’s not a pool but it is bliss.
There are moments that can threaten to shatter the illusion, or meditative state. Those who do not have wireless headphones are talked through when to hold and when and where to stash the device they are listening on which whilst considerate can be jarring. There are some instructions which whilst I found playful, might seem a little silly. Being directed in your own private space by a disembodied voice is not an experience everyone might find relaxing, and like any immersive experience, once you find yourself questioning the instructions, the meditative spell is broken.
“the opportunity to be guided into the world of memory and imagination, through your bathroom”
What Swimming Home offers if you are willing to immerse, is the opportunity to be guided into the world of memory and imagination, through your bathroom. A space you use every day becomes the set for a new experience. It is easy sometimes to focus on what we do not have at this strange time, to think only of what we are missing, but Mercuriali reminds us that the power to experience some of these things that we miss can be found inside our own heads.
Experience Swimming Home every Tuesday- Wednesday or Friday-Saturday through February 2021 https://www.tickettailor.com/events/swimminghome/