Review: Swimming, The White Bear
4.0Overall Score

Swimming is a striking new play which asks us how queer men recontextualise their masculinity beyond a heteronormative standard with all the sensuality of pulling yourself through deep water. Writer Alex Bower weaves an intimate web from the turmoil of two young men falling for one another all through an allegory of finding inner peace at the bottom of a swimming pool.

Dan, performed by George Jones, is our handsome centrepiece. The plot cycles around his self-centered worldview and before long we’re strung up in his faults: “I think he’s attracted to chaos.” Dan battles internalised homophobia but much of his struggle is built from his own immaturity. Our protagonist is far less than perfect with a few screws loose which makes it all the more exciting. Dominic Rawson is striking as love interest Sam and the two enact a draw droppingly seductive courtship. What’s groundbreaking is Bower’s deviation from traditional queer writing. Sam resists Dan’s desire to find himself through another person. It’s refreshing to see a queer love interest decontexualised from a perspective of self-discovery, breaking traditional tropes of m/m romance. 

You won’t find an ounce of set here in the White Bear theatre, but the blues and purples of the lanterns absorb the actor’s bodies turning them to marble. This play is about chemistry, whether between new lovers or old ones, gay men and straight men. It’s an erotically charged coming-of-age drama caught in a British summer heat. The blocking cycles in the small space which renders the action a little repetitive; however, the intimacy is expertly crafted. Each kiss is an explosion which will fill your stomach with butterflies.

The actors trail their heels and stare at their toes as we are gradually caught up in this tangle of longing. Up close, we can feel the vibration of the actors’ voices and see the passion in the light of their eyes. It is Rose Dickson’s heart-aching portrayal of Marianne that makes you root for her. Each scene spins you into a new stage of a relationship, whether a budding romance or a longstanding friendship. I commend Kayla Feldman’s meticulous construction of emotional fluctuations throughout the play. Andy Sellers lands every single joke for his character Ant, and his stage presence builds a deeply memorable performance. 

This is a play that will stay with you. It’s a sexy, rough-around-the-edges work that I can only imagine reverberating into the queer canon for many years to come.

Swimming is playing at the White Bear Theatre until 21 August 2021. For more information and tickets, see White Bear Theatre online.