Swimming Home, your bathroom

Silvia Mercuriali’s most recent Autoteatro piece is an experience fit for 2020; isolated, inward-looking, and dripping with…creativity.

Get ready to get wet and wild (sorry but I couldn’t resist) in a unique piece, beamed straight into your bathroom. So, with obligatory writer’s puns out of the way, let’s discuss Swimming Home in all its glorious oddness. Originally intended for an audience actually in a swimming pool, it is now part of a tryptic: the home show, a section with swimmers training, then building back up to a physical piece in a pool.

In my Speedos, goggles, and with towel around my neck (as instructed by the MERCURIOUS NET app), gazing at myself in my bathroom mirror, I admittedly do feel a touch foolish. Questions rush around my head: Will they reimburse my phone if it gets water damaged? Does my boyfriend think lockdown is finally getting to me mentally? Should I light candles?

But I believe in culture, and if that leads me to freeze to death in my bathroom to try something new then so be it! In part, I am smugly rewarded.

This “immersive sonic reality” (in layman’s terms, a themed audiobook with participation) begins with a soundscape of people discussing their experiences swimming. There are snippets of a plummy male voice, taken from an unknown old film, speaking about “swimming home”. Next, Silvia Mercuriali’s relaxing voice rumbles through our headphones. Her tone is that used as a strange attempt to be calming in those apps that promise you’ll be asleep by the end of the book, and which (to me) always treads the line between therapist and sex line.

The instructions are clear and, although the all-knowing app asks for a pre-filled bath, we don’t dive in straight away. There is some lovely mirror work exploring our own eyes, nose and body, all while facts about water wash over us. Sections of dialogue are intended to bring out memories of our first experience swimming. We are reminded “this is municipal water”; a safe space.

We are instructed to fill the sink, and the mix of water dripping with the binaural (both ears if you didn’t know) sounds attempts to drag us to another headspace. Eyes closed, you may be cold, but the meditation-like experience produces quite the effect.

Finally (and with nipples like daggers), we are in the water, after playing with its surface and watching a boat (body scrub bottle) bob on the surface. Here, the biggest hurdle presents itself. Not wanting to risk my EarPods, I opt for old-fashioned wired headphones, and to protect my phone I have it on the side in a takeaway box. Mercuriali keeps on asking for relaxation but with 400 plus pounds balancing delicately on the side, it’s a rather tall order.

Overall the experience is a charming one, but with very real practical issues. Aside from the issue of water + phone = tears, it only really works in a bath (and preferably a large one, as my half bath felt inadequate). The app mentions a shower option, but I just don’t see how the experience would be half as effective.

Another problem is, who is this aimed at? Sections were very Children’s Theatre-esque (the boat for example), but I would imagine most parents wouldn’t want their little darlings playing round in the bath with the family iPad. Yet I also see that making it more adult might be risky, considering the state of undress the participants are in.

Lastly, there is the issue of concentration. With varying pace, a good mix of magical tales, historical imagination, easy-to-follow instructions, and personal experience, the show does everything it can to provide an escape. Sadly, it is hard to teleport out of my tiny London bathroom, and even harder to resist the urge to clean it or do some cheeky grouting during the show.

With a rather obvious metaphor of plunging into the pool of life, the experience is certainly interesting, making you reconsider this most primordial connection to water itself, and the joys of swimming. If nothing else, at least you come out cleaner than you went in, and with something other than your last trip to Lidl to discuss at the next Zoom call.

Written and directed by: Silvia Mercuriali
Produced by: Giusi Di Gesaro