Start Swimming

Theatre, Drama
4 out of 5 stars
Start Swimming, Young Vic
© Helen Murray

Experimental satire about control systems from James Fritz and the Young Vic's Taking Part company

Many of London’s major theatres operate youth companies as part of their outreach and education programmes, but it’s rare they get much in the way of the spotlight.

So it’s nice to see that both Young Vic Taking Part and the Almeida Young Company have shows up at the Fringe this year, and it’s a pleasure to report that the former – the latter doesn’t start until the 14th – is rather good.

‘Start Swimming' was devised with the company, director Ola Ince and playwright James Fritz as a response to Paul Mason’s recent Young Vic show ‘Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere’. But where that was essentially a souped up performance lecture about the post-Arab Spring world, this is altogether more theatrical and fun.

Dressed in grey, the 11-strong company are clustered awkwardly on an island of boxes on the extreme right of the performing space. They do not look comfortable. They are aware of some sadistic exterior intelligence which can only communicate with them via snippets of songs, plus sprightly little pings when one of them says something ‘right’ and a shock to the entire group if one of them says something ‘wrong’.

They're forced to enact endless permutations on a scenario wherein one of them gets in trouble for standing on some grass, with the intelligence encouraging the others to offer ever more aggressively totalitarian suggestions for how they might respond.

Taking Mason’s show as a jumping off point, you can see 'Start Swimming’ as being about authoritarian regimes and the manner by which the citizens they oppress are finally goaded into response. But it’s nicely baggy: you could read it about the rise of so-called pseudo-public space; you could very easily look at the youth of the company and imagine it to be a gauntlet to the ‘adult’ world and its old ways and rules.

The company is of mixed ages and abilities – of the bunch I’d say the expressive Emma James has the most obviously bright future – but they bring a freshness that meshes will with Ince’s production and Fritz’s text. The subject matter would seen fairly dark, but 'Start Wimming' radiates a puckishness and sense of mischief that mocks control systems even as it articulate their bleakness. To paraphrase the Dylan song the show presumably takes its title from, we leave with some faith that the times are a-changin’.

By: Andrzej Lukowski

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