Performance review: The Pool, Perth Festival

A site-specific location makes this poolside production an innovative treat.
Seven figures are submerged in a pool. They are all lined up in one lane looking towards the side of the pool.

The Pool is a play written by Steve Rodgers and directed by Kate Champion that explores the everyday suburban pool as a productive site of human becoming. The characters in the play – students in love, a middle-aged woman recovering from addiction and struggling with mental health challenges, a mother coming to terms with the ups and downs of her relationship with her troubled daughter, a doting father recovering from a knee operation, a woman steeped in the rituals of suburban family life and community, a keen and protective manager, an ebullient and kind swim teacher, a woman who swims competitively in inclusive swimming events, and others – form a loosely-bound community where all are fundamentally united by their love of swimming (or appreciation of swimming as a survival skill).

Set and performed at Bold Park Aquatic Centre at City Beach, Perth, this play literally and figuratively celebrates the pool as a sacred space for togetherness in Australia. The audience is seated along the pavilion and watches from a distance, as the play is enacted within and around the pool, while listening to the dialogue over headphones. This is a technically innovative and inspiring play. 

It also breaks new narrative ground. Stories of characters from multicultural backgrounds and people living with disability feature prominently. Actors living with disability enacting their specific sense of belonging within and around the pool make the audience appreciate the individuality of each person’s relationship with water. 

The play’s marvellous sound design is surprising and ingenious. Melding live dialogue from performances along the periphery of the pool with pre-recorded reflective soliloquies and music, it brings different storylines and experiences together to form a cohesive narrative whole. Given the vast expanse of the theatrical space and the co-mingling of different groups of characters, it is essential for the sound design in a performance like this to guide the audience’s experience effectively and Tim Collins’ flawless and wonderful work does exactly that. 

Alongside the innovative technical dimensions of the play, the sterling choreography and synchronised swimming by a group of swimmers (forming a chorus) give the play a unique and highly apposite performative dimension capitalising on the entirety of the pool as a stage. Woven through the narratives in the play, the skilful swimming and alternating rounds of immersion, play and emergence by the chorus, as well as their effortless enactment of everyday interactions by the poolside, help to physically bookend and demarcate the play’s conceptual and narrative segments. 

This is a play that takes as its subject and stage the quintessential Aussie suburban pool with all its promise of energising exercise, fun, relaxation, camaraderie, rejuvenation and reflection. The pool is where Aussies embrace the all-encompassing importance of water in our natural environment. It is a place where the burdens of everyday life and the detritus of the day can be washed away and we can just immerse ourselves in the all-forgiving water to re-emerge anew.

Read: Dance review: Mutiara, Perth Festival

Rodgers and Champion give us a version of ourselves in this play and this sacred space of ours that we will recognise, love and embrace. 

The Pool by Steve Rodgers
Bold Park Aquatic Centre, 215 The Boulevard, Mooro
Black Swan State Theatre Company, WA
Director: Kate Champion
Composer and Sound Designer: Tim Collins
Costume and Props Designer: Amalia Lambert
Assistant Director: Rachel McMurray
Cast: Kylie Bracknell, Anna Gray, Edyll Ismail, Emma Jackson, Joel Jackson, Geoff Kelso, Polly Low, Julia Moody, Tobias Muhafidin, Carys Munks

Tickets: $30-$75

The Pool will be performed until 25 February as part of Perth Festival.

Arjun Rajkhowa lives in Perth and enjoys writing about local arts and culture.