Pros: The fresh take on the pressures entailed by an alpha male role.
Cons: The narrative structure feels fragmentary.
Bill (Azan Ahmed) and Frank (Jack Dillon) have been friends since childhood and know each other’s secrets and history. They both look smart and act cool, wearing blue suits and fancy silk ties. Looking impeccable, pleasing the boss and being cordial to each other are all part of their role, although, deep inside, they’re burning with mutual envy and tormented by an unreasonable pressure to compete.
The stakes for the modern Alpha-Male are high, in the form of a lurking necessity to appear and behave better than the other. Having the most loyal wife, the cutest child and the most high-profile job are pivotal elements for the dominant status they’re both striving to achieve.
Structuring the play like a sporting competition, Canadian playwright Daniel MacIvor uses a young female character (Tabatha Gregg-Allured) as a referee. Her job is to watch closely the two opponents and assign a point to the winner of each match. These 12 rounds revolve around different topics, which range from wearing matching socks to giving the best advice or keeping the worst secret. The point is assigned to whom performs better in the specific scenario.
This fragmentary narrative structure and a lack of directorial confidence weighs the play down, which contains an unwittingly self-referential metaphor of its own flaws. During a final twist in the plot, the pair of friends find themselves on the shore of a lake, sharing a stretch of sand with the girl-cum-referee. She suddenly decides to challenge them on a swimming competition towards a point in the distance and, the more they swim, the more the point seems hard to reach. The same happens to the play, which takes too long to send out its message and struggles to make a point.
The almost bare set helps to focus on the perfectly coordinated scenes enacted by Ahmed and Dillon, whereas Gregg-Allured has a completely marginal role, which make her presence on stage almost redundant. Is this supposed to portray the woman as an accessory to the alpha male or is she in power, since she has the last word on their challenges?
Leaving these and some other questions unanswered, Never Swim Alone‘s caricature of modern competitiveness has, however, its main highlight in the exploration of male psychology, a subject whose importance has finally reached the eye of the public opinion. If only those three swimmers made it to the point a bit more swiftly.
Author: Daniel MacIvor
Director: Alexander Hick
Producer: Forge Collective
Box Office: 020 7482 4857
Booking Link: http://www.etceteratheatre.com/details.php?show_id=2847
Booking Until: 2 December 2018