Monday June 17, 2024


February 18 2024

THE POOL, Black Swan State Theatre Company at the Perth Festival, to 25 February 2024.


West Coast culture only intermittently hits the headlines in Australia’s eastern states, often prompted by news of shark attacks or record-breaking summer heat. And the heat is on, with Perth enduring a run of searing 40-degree days. It may explain the popularity of a unique Festival show, The Pool, where you can turn up in your togs and dive in after the show. A Black Swan State Theatre Company production, it is set poolside at Bold Park Aquatic Centre.

When playwright and lap swimmer Steve Rodgers approached Black Swan artistic director Kate Champion with his theatrical ode to public swimming pools, she was determined to place the audience on concrete bleachers around a real 50-metre Olympic pool. 

Big crowds have embraced the balmy nights at Bold Park’s outdoor pool, eating classic pool snacks like hot chips and chilled choc milk while others spread their picnics and wine glasses on the wide lawn. Then the audience is asked to assemble in the stands, don individual audio headsets and settle in for the first splash.


A team of swimmers – choreographed by director Champion – evoke childhood memories of bommies before swimming lessons began. And then when dialogue starts to come through our headphones, it takes a few minutes to work out that it’s being spoken by various mic-ed-up figures around the pool.

There’s a kind of ‘Where’s Wally?’ quest to match up the intimate audio chat about prolapse and dying mahjong partners with two older women Greta and Val (Polly Low and Julia Moody), seated on banana lounges on the far side of the pool. Then comes another hunt to identify the high school sweethearts Safiyah (Edyll Ismail) and Ananda (Tobias Muhafidin) describing their escape to the pool to avoid the prying gaze of parents.

We spot Ron (Geoff Kelso) easing himself gingerly into the water; his crook knee finds relief in hydrotherapy. Morgan (Carys Munks) describes the limitations of her disabled body, and then expertly dives in. “In the water, it doesn’t matter”, she explains. Her body slices through the water, and in her wake, the squad of strong young swimmers seems to mimic her aqua supremacy. 

You get the drift – this is a slow-paced, languid immersion in Australia’s public pool culture. As Rodgers says, these are intended as snatches of waterside chat. There’s a mixed-up adult daughter Joni (Emma Jackson) who longs to float away from the tether of protective parents but is terrified of water.  Later, in one of a few poignant moments, tormented Joni finds herself coached expertly by Kirk (Joel Jackson) into the ecstasy of floating on her back. 


Composer and sound designer Tim Collins adds deft sonic highlights to the splashing sounds, the chatter and a few prerecorded monologues. The complex sound system allows us to “virtually” saunter around the water’s edge and eavesdrop on people’s conversations.

But this aural intimacy is undermined by the tyranny of distance – the action largely takes place on the opposite side of the pool, at least 20 metres away. You strain to glimpse the school kids’ snogging, or the pleasure on the swimming instructor’s face when he realises he’s cured another swimming phobic.

Champion has described the public swimming pool as a place “where a sense of egalitarianism is all-pervasive.” She hopes The Pool will attract people who would never normally attend a theatre performance; an inducement is that, as part of the show's finale, bathers-clad patrons are invited to join the cast for a brief aqua aerobics session.

The Pool is gentle, impressionistic and best approached in the same way a lapping swimmer approaches their back-and-forth daily routine. Get into a gentle rhythm, savour each stroke and bliss out until the final lap brings you to the shallow end. 



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