Review: Lifeguard, NTS (for Sunday Herald)





Reviewed by Mark Brown


The Govanhill Baths in the southside of Glasgow (opened in 1917, and closed by Glasgow City Council, amidst immense controversy and acrimony, in 2001) have become a veritable icon. The focus of on-going efforts to re-open them (courtesy of the Govanhill Baths Community Trust), the Baths are a place charged with memories and hopes for the future.

Where better, then, for performance artist Adrian Howells (creator of the earlier piece Foot Washing For The Sole) to further advance his fascination with the emotional and spiritual resonances of water? In his latest show, Lifeguard, (a co-production between the National Theatre of Scotland and Glasgow arts venue The Arches) Howells takes to the Baths’ training pool. The darker side of our relationship with water (a painful memory of a harsh father forcing a child in at the deep end; the self-described final moments of a drowning person) combines with kinder aspects of our aquatic experience (from learning to swim to pool play).

These various vignettes are presented with the assistance of superb dancer Ira Mandela Siobhan, local swimmers of various ages and some really impressive video projections (both of individual swimmers and, later, of a synchronised swimming team). The perfectly toned body of Mandela Siobhan (a performer with the acclaimed DV8 Physical Theatre, among others) is evocative of the exhibitionist (and, therefore, erotic) aspect of swimming; he certainly shames those of us in the audience who (sitting round the poolside in swimming costumes, t-shirts and towels) have less cause for confidence in our bodies.

There is no doubting the emotive possibilities of this show. However, it feels too lightly constructed. Interesting ideas are touched upon, but abandoned before their implications have been truly explored. One searches for a real emotional connection, but it slips away, like water through one’s fingers.


This review was originally published in the Sunday Herald on October 14, 2012

© Mark Brown


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