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Swim, Aunty, Swim | Belgrade Theatre

Siana Bangura’s, Swim, Aunty, Swim!, follows the bond and friendship of three older West African women as they come closer together through the help of swimming and water. The play is a wonderful depiction of female friendship in this specific age group and heritage, both identities which we don’t see often enough on our stages.

Bangura’s writing is brilliant. The story moves at a pleasing pace and we learn more about our three main characters, as well as the supporting role of Danny, the swim instructor (Sam Baker-Jones), in each scene and in a steady trickle. Aunty Ama’s (Evelyn Duah) story does feel ever so slightly less developed than Aunty Fatu’s (Anni Domingo) and Aunty Blessing’s, (Karlin Grace-Paseda), and so this would have been nice to receive more of. However, the connection that the three aunties have is incredibly endearing, and the audience feel like they are a part of it as well. We learn about their cultures and what has happened in their lives up to this point in realistic conversation - the dialogue feels like a ‘slice of life’.

Madeleine Kludje directs the piece with the three central performances at the forefront - it is all about them. A West African-inspired dance piece begins the play, performed with a slow fluidity, then the rest of it is mostly directed naturalistically, with the music for the scene changes (composed by Duramaney Kamara) always linking the piece cohesively, due to its use at the start. The scene changes could be used more effectively, as they often last a long duration, with ongoing storytelling moments happening throughout all of them, and ‘marked’ more on the stage.

The action, even when not taking place in the pool, is always staged inside it, maintaining ever-present the healing powers of water and its ability for connection in the play’s wrath, never losing sight of the themes. However, the location depicted on one end of the traverse stage is only utilised towards the end of the play, and so this set piece could be worked with more resourcefully. Movement direction by Gabrielle Nimo is hugely engaging, finding brilliant ways to demonstrate swimming throughout the piece which do not feel jarring.

The performances from Domingo, Duah and Grace-Paseda are all phenomenal. Domingo takes Aunty Fatu on the ride of emotions she has in the play impressively, from the determination and grief of her character, to how she is brought closer to her friends. Duah is hilarious as Aunty Ama, wanting to act younger and more flirtatious and desperate to have her friends join in with the swimming. Finally, Grace-Paseda brings a lovely grounded feeling to Aunty Blessing, who is also carrying and navigating an emotional burden of her own. Baker-Jones also plays Danny with a really sincere connection to the aunties.

Claire Winfield’s set design magnificently turns the auditorium into a swimming pool (without the water!), and is created with such realistic depth and colours, in conjunction with Ryan Joseph Stafford’s lighting, that your eyes instantly deceive you. Kamara has also worked on the sound design and the volume of it, and its sound create a flowing intensity when it is used during the scene changes.

Swim, Aunty, Swim! is an excellent piece of new theatre, one giving a platform to lesser heard voices in an extremely compassionate way. If this first production is anything to go by, this play’s swim has only just begun.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (4*)

Gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by Nicola Young


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