Theatre review: Start Swimming

The assured, impassioned performances make the play feel raw and vivid. Picture: Helen Murray
The assured, impassioned performances make the play feel raw and vivid. Picture: Helen Murray
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Edinburgh Festival Fringe: For young people today, life resembles a sadistic reality TV show where a faceless, unnamed authority can approve or disapprove the choices you make according to rules you’re not allowed to know (perhaps they change, in any case), and, if it disapproves, delivers a painful electric shock to the ground you’re standing on.

Summerhall (Venue 26)

****

This is the vision presented in James Fritz’s play in this Young Vic Taking Part production, directed by Ola Ince. It was made with young people in South London in response to Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere, a play by economics journalist Paul Mason for the Young Vic about the failure of recent revolutions and protest movements.

The cast of seven women and four men must win against the machine to achieve the basics in life: a job, a home, some peace in which to live. The machine has its preferences: rude or defiant behaviour is bad, subservience is welcomed, dishonesty isn’t always a problem but group resistance is a guaranteed fail. Though ultimately without power, the young people are quick-thinking and resourceful in their attempts to outwit it.

In the course of the play, they explore a wide range of possible responses: belligerence; abandoning integrity altogether; opting out; giving up radicalism and embracing the middle-class lifestyle. Mass protest is energising for a while, but is crushed in the end.

The assured, impassioned performances make this play feel raw and vivid. While the metaphor has its limitations (why can no-one break ranks?) and to some extent avoids defining the nature of the enemy, it’s a powerful indictment of the situation in which many people find themselves. In this light, the defiant chant of the protester – “I’m not going anywhere” – starts to look less like empowerment and more like another way of being stuck.

Until 13 August. Today 2:20pm.