Sunday, July 3

Swim – Theatre by the Lake

Sitting in The Studio just a few yards from Derwentwater the urge to run down to the shore and into the icy water is extreme after Liz Richardson’s performance of her play Swim, writes Karen Morley-Chesworth.

This is a new version of the production performed at HOME in Manchester and at the Edinburgh Festival before the lockdowns. Originally with a cast of other performers, sharing the experiences of a group of wild swimmers, during the following couple of years, Liz revisited her work and focused on the true-life experience of her and her friend Lisa B. This one-woman performance works beautifully, distilling their intertwined story into the one voice.

The setting for this production at Theatre by the Lake in Keswick is simple and effective. A chained curtain backdrop upon which the blurred projection takes us into Liz’s memory – driving down country lanes, leaving behind her life in London to relocate back up North with her husband to bring up a family in the rural setting she enjoyed as a child of the Lake District fells.

We go with her on the dawn journeys to the waterside to swim with her new pals, as her face and body move between the projection of the images. The sensory experience, creating a unique atmosphere in The Studio is enhanced by the music performed live by Carmel Smichersgill on stage with Liz.

Before the lights dim for the performance to begin, Liz and Carmel casually walk onto the set, and Liz chats away to us, like a stand-up comedian making us laugh about her experiences, as we can see bits of ourselves in the story she is telling. And as the lights slowly dim, we enter her world.

Photo – ©Chris Payne

From the Lakes to London and back up North to the Peak District. Liz gently tells how she became friends is Lisa B – it is like listening to her chatting to us in the pubs she so happy describes. She tells us of her first toe-dip in the freezing waters with her wild swimmer friends and how the shock of the water becomes an escape from the world. And how these wild swims become a lifeline for Lisa B after the loss of two young family members.

You feel Liz reliving the nightmare she, Lisa B and her close-knit community experienced – though it is more accurate to say experience. Knowing this is a true story and that in a few days’ time Lisa B, family and friends will be sitting in the same Studio watching this production, makes this a special piece of intimate theatre. We really are sharing their life experiences.

This is as live, raw and open as the wild stretches of water Liz and Lisa B and their friends submerge themselves in.

Liz is the most natural performer, and this is the most human of plays. You laugh, you cry and your gain hope from this production. And you also gain an understanding as to why anyone would want to get up before dawn and jump into dark, freezing, wild open water.

This is a performance to inspire and touch your soul. Beautiful to watch, listen to and feel.

SWIM is a Theatre by the Lake co-production with Liz Richardson Productions Ltd in association with imPOSSIBLE Producing Ltd.

Swim is at The Studio, Theatre by the Lake until Saturday 16th April and then

•             Cumbrian Rural tour 18th-21st April

•             Rosehill Theatre, Whitehaven on 22nd April

•             The Minack 25th-26th April

•             The Poly, Falmouth 27th April

•             Trebah Gardens, Cornwall 28th April

•             Into Bodmin 29th April

•             Exeter Phoenix 23rd May

•             Theatre Royal Plymouth 26th May

Reviewer: Karen Morley-Chesworth

Reviewed: 2nd April 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★