Published in The Guardian
National Theatre of Scotland/Arches/Govanhill Baths Community Trust
EVEN a trip to the swimming
baths is full of ritual. First comes the initiation ceremony of
changing room, wire basket and wristband – just as it is here in Adrian
Howells's literally immersive performance in the out-of-use Govanhill
Baths, Glasgow. We prepare for this show just as we prepared for
childhood visits to the local pool: clothes off, trunks on, towel at the
And it is with a ritualistic poise that Howells joins us as we
sit on benches around the teaching pool. Seemingly in a world of his
own, he manipulates the long brush to clean the tiled surface, stands
alongside the lithe form of swimmer Ira Mandela Siobhan and gazes across
the water with its rippling projections of bodies torpedoing by.
takes time to adjust to the meditative pace of this National Theatre of
Scotland and Arches production. For a while, it seems Howells has
little more to offer than a minor childhood anecdote about being pushed
into the deep end by his father.
Gradually, however, the
impressionistic images take hold, be it the rough-and-tumble of
dive-bombing boys, or the dreamy memory of standing naked in an Aegean
rock pool. We are in the world of the civic amenity, but sometimes
Lifeguard recalls the shimmering beauty of David Hockney's Californian poolside paintings.
By the time we meet a man who learned to swim in Govanhill Baths (now under the management of a community trust),
and applaud a young learner as he completes a couple of lengths, our
minds are awash with the memories of water. It is then with a joyous
sense of communal sharing that we put our towels down and enter the pool
Before home time, there are two more rituals left: a mug of hot chocolate and a teeth-chattering return to the changing rooms.
© Mark Fisher, 2012 (pic: Peter Dibdin)
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