Full Rogue’s production of Wild Swimming is a joyful, clever and funny show about gender, privilege, poetry and swimming. Alice Lamb and Annabel Baldwin play Oscar and Nell, two childhood friends with different destinies as a man and a woman. We meet them in the sixteenth century where Nell is left in Dorset until she is married, whereas Oscar heads to University, to fill his mind with ideas about poetry and swimming the Hellespont. The play twists and turns through four hundred years of English history like a pas de deux version of Woolf’s Orlando. The pair meet on this beach in each new age. Nell gaining a little more freedom and Oscar some food for thought.
Marek Horn’s script is so alive, and the actors have such incredible chemistry that the whole thing fizzes with energy, fueled by the snacks they provide. The shifts in tone and tension in the different perspectives of the friends are a fantastic way of viewing this history. At one point Oscar tries to build a time vortex in order to take them back to a moment where everything made sense to him, not considering that this would mean drowning his best friend in a life of captivity and boredom. At another, Nell is accused of never seeing Oscar as anything more than an oppressive idea, not a real fallible person.
The self-reflexiveness built into the script and the performance let these points of contention play out, always with warmth behind them as you believe in the love between the characters. It gets meta often, but in a way, that aids the ideas put forward. These two are consistent characters throughout history. The only thing that changes is the world around them. It tosses the fortune of men and women through war and burning at the stake, to depression and a life well-lived. A fascinating way to get to grips with gender history.