One should not, apparently, swim alone in the open sea. The only times I have ever bothered going to the seaside in my youth was when I was (metaphorically) dragged there by relatives on a warm and sunny weekend, and there would have been so many witnesses if anyone did get into trouble that technically, nobody was ‘alone’ out there. But Never Swim Alone considers what happens in the middle of the night, when the crowds have long since dissipated. School friends Frank (Jack Dillon) and Bill (Azan Ahmed) are chasing after a character not named in the show’s programme, so far be it for me to reveal it here.
Those events, as it transpires, only make up a relatively small amount of the total narrative, which goes from topic to topic in thirteen scenes, or ‘rounds’, in a frankly bizarre competition between the two men, now of working age, who (as I understood it) agree to compete to win the Referee (Tabatha Gregg-Allured). The use of a woman as a ‘prize’ for a man will not go down well with the feminist movement and those who sympathise with it. No ‘friends with benefits’ is to be considered: the winner takes it (or rather, her) all. The tasks the boys must undertake range from dispensing of ‘friendly advice’ to a ’round’ simply called ‘Dad’. The rounds are not explained very well, and the parameters are undefined. “Round Six. Numbers Only”, announces the Referee. Your guess is as good as mine. Was this a game of word association? It must have been for, “Round Seven. Dad.”
The use of quick-fire rounds gives rise to patchy character development – just as one or the other, or sometimes both, lads are just starting to scratch below the surface about something, the whistle blows once more and there is a change of topic. There is a certain rhythm in some of the dialogue, and the manner in which Frank and Bill have either similar or divergent thoughts, speaking the same words at the same time, or not, is commendable.
It would seem that Frank and Bill are not, in the end, nearly as adventurous in reality as they assert in an increasingly absurd exchange and counter-exchange (and counter-counter-exchange, and so on as the rounds progress – you get the idea). While some exaggerations are obvious, others are not so. I think the play was trying to put across the boys as having dreams, aspirations and ambitions, whilst showing a relative vacuity in their lives to date. This may have made for something of a dark comedy elsewhere but here, it is instead an expression of banality at best and tedium at worst. There is much talk about cutting through the water to get to the ‘The Point’, but ultimately, I’m not sure what ‘the point’ of getting to ‘The Point’ was, other than Frank insisting he got there before Bill. So? Was he expecting a gold medal and an MBE?
The actors do well with what they are given – a lot of repetition and an ultimately slim plotline, including bonus scenes awarded to the winner of each of the thirteen ‘rounds’, which they use to wax lyrical about something on their minds. The show’s critical incident, when it came, was too melodramatic for my liking. The ending was more of a cliff-hanger than a conclusion, which compounded the production’s surreal nature. This play is certainly off the beaten path and is best enjoyed by those who like grappling with abstract ideas and ambiguity.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Frank and Bill, two men in dark suits and bad ties, square off in a thirteen-round battle royal of vicious insults and desperate one-upmanship in a bid to win the love of the Referee, a mysterious woman who controls the game and its competitors in a world where the only option to is to be the first, and nothing is as it seems. Written by award-winning Canadian playwright Daniel Macivor, the play experiments with form to present a haunting interrogation into perceptions of masculinity, egotism and how trauma shapes who we are.
Written by award-winning Canadian playwright
CAST & CREATIVES
Bill Azan Ahmed
Frank Jack Read
Referee Tabatha Gregg-Allured
Director Alexander Hick
Producer Saxon Rose
27th Nov – 2nd Dec 2018
Etcetera Theatre, Camden
Duration: 55 minutes