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Beach boys and girls in Wild Swimming

Deft depiction of gender politics down the years in light-hearted drama set over four centuries

06 August, 2020 — By Lucy Popescu

IN Marek Horn’s light-hearted drama, Wild Swimming, originally staged at the Edinburgh festival in 2019, Nell (Aimee-Ffion Edwards) and Oscar (Joseph Tweedale) meet on the same deserted beach in Dorset over four centuries.

At the beginning of the 17th century, Oscar has returned from his first term at university and Nell is desperate to escape her privileged family.

Oscar wants to become a scholar-poet like Philip Sidney and ponders his thesis that the rhythms of swimming and writing are similar. Nell can’t comment – she’s not allowed to study or swim.

The friends slip between time, meeting in different centuries until the present day, picking up where they left off. While Oscar witters on about Leander and Lord Byron swimming the Hellespont, Nell ends up living Oscar’s dream and becomes a successful writer.

As they hurtle through the years, the couple bicker about literature, privilege and gender politics. When they meet between the two World Wars, Oscar’s injuries make it difficult for him to swim while Nell has braved the waters and writes poetry.

Times have changed. Nell has travelled abroad with another woman and swum in the Hellespont. She has made her name as a poet while Oscar has taken over the family factory in the north of England.

By the 1980s, Nell is flying high and working on a radical feminist reinterpretation of The Odyssey. Oscar’s family business has folded and he’s a singer in a post-industrial, post-punk rock band. Nell is a literary success. She is also a good swimmer. She’s had lessons.

In a metafictional twist, Oscar does not want to continue reading Horn’s radio script and the choice of music for the changing eras irritates him. Oscar wants the version of himself that matches the patriarchal world of his birth.

Our pleasure comes from the pair’s playful banter down the centuries and Horn’s deft depiction of gender politics. Despite the reversal of fortunes, they remain friends. Oscar realises that Nell is living the story he would have written for himself. But there’s no turning back.

• BBC Radio 4, 2.15pm, August 8

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