HOW I LEARNED TO SWIM: A View from the Water’s Edge

Saturday June 5th 2021 – streamed via Jermyn Street Theatre.

Somebody Jones is back with a new short play, and as with BLACK WOMEN DATING WHITE MEN, what shines through this piece is its reflective tone and observant writing. In HOW I LEARNED TO SWIM, we have a personal story front and centre, but Jones also offers a much broader exploration of Black people’s relationship with water.

We meet Jamie pool-side as a child. It doesn’t go well. From the very earliest experiences around water, accusations and untruths fly. Having demonstrated how Black children can find themselves isolated and misunderstood in such spaces, the narrative pivots to adulthood – both in the present and looking back at critical experiences around water. Now a thirty year old determined to swim (for reasons yet to be revealed), we join her as she meets with her swimming teacher and begins to tackle her anxieties.

Under the direction of Khadifa Wong, Merryl Ansah takes centre stage and impresses with her ability to embody a host of characters. Ansah is at her best when offering Jamie’s sardonic commentary on swimming lessons as an insecure thirty year old – she brilliantly handles the blend of humour and snapshots of grittier underlying issues within Jones’ writing. And when the tone does shift more permanently towards a deeper subject matter and Jones introduces mythological and spiritual layers to the story, Ansah brings the innermost troubles of her character out into the open with a moving vulnerability.

As the narrative skips between formative experiences and glimpses of a deeper truth to Jamie’s decision to learn to swim, Wong’s direction sees smooth transitions between moments of physical storytelling, extended monologue and re-enacted exchanges. Subtle sound design also brings the worlds of the story to life while the few choice set pieces, as independent sources of light, create some striking visuals.

Overall? In just over an hour, Jones and Ansah cover impressive ground here, with elements of humour, tragedy and socio-political commentary all embedded in an engaging story. Recommended.

Images: Shonay Shote.

HOW I LEARNED TO SWIM plays Jermyn Street Theatre, London until June 10th 2021. Tickets are available for live performances and streaming here.

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