In Conversation with the Cast of 'Wild Swimming'

In Conversation with the Cast of 'Wild Swimming'

Lucy Farrow sat down with the cast of Wild Swimming to discuss the upcoming play at the Corpus Playroom.

Lucy Farrow: I have the pleasure of chatting with the stars of Between the Bars’ production of Wild Swimming, which is coming to the Corpus Playroom Wednesday 13 - Saturday 16 September. I’m joined by Catriona Clarke who plays Nell and Matt Bairstow who plays Oscar. How are you feeling about the show?

Matt Bairstow: Very excited and very nervous. It’s not like any show I’ve done before, which is what’s so exciting about it, but also a bit terrifying. It’s simultaneously the most fun and exhausting process I’ve been a part of. We’re so active throughout it, and it’s got a unique structure. We’ve got sections where we’re doing scenes as normal, and then sections where we’re time travelling and interacting with the audience, and making it new each time. It’s a brilliant challenge.

Catriona Clarke: I feel really good about it, it’s all been going really well. It is completely different to anything I’ve ever done before. I normally do musicals, this is only my second play, so I’ve been so surprised at (with no musical numbers) how tiring it’s been! As there are only two of us for the entire performance and we never leave the stage, it’s really full on, but that’s one of the things that’s made it such a joy to do.

I also don’t think it’s like anything I’ve ever seen before. The stage directions are completely bananas, they’re all in all caps and say stuff like “go get wet, go hand out water pistols to the audience, go hand out sweets”, and then say things like “this might/could/should/must happen”, so we really have the freedom to do what we want each night.

Photo by Paul Ashley

LF: It is mad, but works so well. I’ve been able to see a preview run and it was amazing, and I completely agree with you, it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. I think the scenes interspersed with these moments of chaos are so brilliant. I’ve since had a look through the script, and you are basically told “just do what you feel”. How did it feel to read the script for the first time?

CC: It is just a brilliant read on its own. In our first rehearsal I said that we should just give copies out to the audience as we wouldn’t improve on it, but you know from the off that it’s going to be a bit mad. I think I was initially in denial about how much of a challenge it would be for us.

LF: And watching it, you wouldn’t know that it has been a challenge to get to this point, as you bring it together so beautifully. There’s this wonderful storyline and connection between these two characters, and then just this unique chaos. Without any spoilers, can you tell us about the story?

MB: It’s about Nell and Oscar, two best friends who meet on the same beach, but at different eras in time. We go from the late 1600s to modern day, but for Oscar and Nell it’s maybe only jumped a year. It explores how their relationship has changed through time, and how the politics of gender have changed, and how that impacts their relationship.

CC: The play was inspired by the original production’s director and co-creator having a chat with a man who said that he would have done much better in Victorian times. That’s what the genesis of the play was, because Oscar perhaps feels like he has more opportunities to be successful in the earlier time periods, but he doesn’t, it’s just that other people now have those opportunities too.

Photo by Paul Ashley

LF: Gender roles are definitely a very important theme. Matt, your character Oscar is described in the script as “an ageless, time-travelling water sprite, an aspiring poet, Nell’s neighbour”, how would you describe your character?

MB: I would say he’s an optimist. He’s quite naive and privileged. He thinks that everything will fall into his lap. As times change, he realises that happens less and less, and doesn’t cope with it well.

CC: And the first few time periods, everything does fall into his lap, and he’s then very shocked when it doesn’t anymore. Cat (the Director’s) note for Matt is always “can you be a bit more pathetic, please?”

MB: “Be more pathetic”. And I think that comes from his naivety. He takes himself and everything else too seriously, which we get a lot of humour out of. He loftily thinks “I’ll be all these great things”, and then doesn’t register when he’s maybe not being so great himself. He doesn’t want to take responsibility for his own actions, which fuels him a lot through the course of the play.

LF: I definitely agree with you on the comedy. Would you say it was a comedy? I would.

MB: I think so, it’s a lot of fun, and we maintain that even when it becomes a bit dramedy. You’re still going to be laughing.

LF: For sure. (No spoilers) the end is still very funny, even if a bit dramatic. Catriona, your character Nell is described as “an ageless time-travelling water sprite”, but instead of “aspiring poet”, she’s just “poet and genius”. Can you tell us about her?

CC: Nell is very clever and articulate. She always, to the point of being quite mean, outsmarts Oscar and has the upper hand. In the first time period, in Elizabethan times, she’s got absolutely nothing to do. She’s just a bored rich girl; she can’t go to university or get a job, all she has to do with her time is sit and wait to get married or be a spinster. As we move forwards in time, she starts to be given more opportunities and she’s then able to put her intellect and skills to good use.

Photo by Paul Ashley

LF: What’s your favourite time period in the play? When’s your character most successful?

MB: Oscar is most successful at the start of the show, he just has everything handed to him and he can do whatever he wants. He’s a man in that age so can get away with whatever. For me, I like the present day. I like that the world is growing and progressing, but that’s the whole point of the play, we should always be trying to move forwards, and I agree with that.

CC: Yeah, as a woman, for both me and my character we would do best in modern times. I like being able to vote, and have a job, and own things, and I like modern medicine as well. My favourite time period to perform is probably Elizabethan though, we’ve spent a lot of time in rehearsals trying not to laugh throughout that scene. Matt really tries be professional and he can see my shoulders going as I corpse.

LF: It’s so clear as an audience member how much fun you’re both having, and you bring the audience along with you. What’s been your favourite part of the process for this?

CC: (laughs) I get to eat a lot.

LF: Yes! What’s your snack of choice?

CC: It’s actually become quite a logistical question, and a lot of thought has gone into the snacks that we have on stage. It needs to not be messy and drip onto our incredible costumes, and things that can be put down and picked up if we want. In the first rehearsal I tried it with an ice cream and it was just a disaster.

MB: One night I want to have a caterpillar cake on stage. I will eat it all myself. It’s whatever we feel like on the day.

LF: I’d like to talk about the title. Why is it called Wild Swimming?

CC: It’s all set on the same beach, and swimming is sort of used as a metaphor for what Nell is able to do. In Elizabeth times, she’s not allowed to swim at all. In Regency times, she can swim but only if she goes into the sea via a bathing hut, and then from the 1930s she’s got more freedom to swim in the sea. The playwright had read a book called Swell by Jenny Landreth, where she talks about how swimming has always been a liberating form of exercise for women, because you are literally hidden from the male gaze by the water. But it’s only liberating if you’re allowed to do it.

Photo by Paul Ashley

LF: Finally, why should people come see the show?

CC: It’s weird and fun, and only an hour long, and you get to shoot us with water guns, and we have great costumes, and it’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever been in.

MB: If you want a unique theatre experience, this is one for you.

LF: You’ve got a really great show, I hope you have an amazing run!

Wild Swimming
by Marek Horn
Wednesday 13 - Saturday 16 September 2023
Corpus Playroom

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