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Swim Aunty Swim - Tribute to Healing Powers of Water

Karlina Grace-Paseda as Blessing & Evelyn Duah as Ama. Photo by Nicola Young Photography.

Swim, Aunty, Swim! By Siana Bangura, at the Belgrade Theatre, in association with Tiata Fahodzi Monday 20 May to Saturday 1 June 2024.

Review by Annette Kinsella.


I am an Aquarius. If you believe in astrology – which I don’t – this apparently means I am ‘independent, mysterious, free-spirited and eccentric’. It also means I was born under the sign of the water carrier – an incongruous irony given that I am TERRIFIED of water. I am that person, shivering at the edge of the coast squealing and running for the sand dunes the second a droplet of water splashes my toes.

This is not to say I do not feel intense jealousy when I see people confidently stride Rebecca Adlington-style into the water, adjusting their goggles and inserting earplugs. In my more positive moments, I have even flirted with the idea of adult swimming lessons so I too can join social media friends extolling the virtues of frolicking in lakes or at lidos.

Evelyn Duah as Ama. Photo by Nicola Young Photography


This explains why Swim Auntie Swim, the new show debuting at the Belgrade Theatre, held such appeal for me. Telling the story of three African women, Fatu (Anni Domingo), Ama ( Evelyn Duah) and Blessing (Karlina Grace-Paseda), the action focuses on the community swimming pool, where young instructor Danny (Sam Baker-Jones) leads them on their journey from novices to wild swimmers.

Anni Domingo as Fatu (in church). Photo by Nicola Young Photography

Director Madeleine Kludje and lighting technician Ryan Joseph Stafford cut no corners in the transformation of the theatre to pool, as skilful use of dappled spotlights created the ripples of the water across the sunken stage, with the audience watching from the sidelines. If I had a minor criticism, it would be that the actors' descent into the water meant it was sometimes hard to watch the action play out on the recessed platform.

Evelyn Duah, Anni Domingo, Karlina Grace-Paseda. Photo by Nicola Young Photography


However, a craned head was not enough to prevent the enjoyment of this show. Little by little, the personal traumas of the women were revealed: Fatu conducts night-time vigils on the streets following the death of her son in police custody; Blessing’s husband was a victim of cancer after refusing medical treatment; Ama struggled against the censure of her community after she became a single parent. Together the women use their journey through the water to overcome their losses, while Danny himself gains the confidence to spread his wings and follow his dream to become a water therapist.


The themes of life and death, birth and rebirth were dealt with sensitively and compassionately and with a healthy dose of humour – the overall tone was less Steel Magnolias and more Golden Girls. (That is not a criticism of Steel Magnolias by the way – I love that film and Dolly Parton is a GODDESS).

Evelyn Duah, Karlina Grace-Paseda, Anni Domingo & Sam Baker-Jones. Photo by Nicola Young Photography.


The cast themselves tackled the big issues with aplomb, with Anni Domingo especially shining as she breaks down her barriers to describe why she patrols the bus station at night in an attempt to prevent further miscarriages of justice destroying more families. Her impassioned speech, in which she describes how she has no desire to become a campaigner but simply wants her son back, invited comparisons with the grace and courage of Doreen Lawrence and thousands more mothers who are thrust into the limelight in a role they never wanted.

Karlina Grace-Paseda, Evelyn Duah, Anni Domingo & Sam Baker-Jones. Photo by Nicola Young Photography


It’s impossible to know where to start with this remarkable performance – so much more than a paeon to the healing powers of water, the show speaks of the transformative strength of friendship, community and resilience. I am hesitant to use the words ‘feel-good’ – although it was – because the themes cut so much deeper. It was a privilege to see this premiere in its debut. I am certain it will make a splash – arf – across the country.


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