Two women, in two different shows set on opposite sides of the world, swim as if their lives depend on it. One is training for an ironman-length triathlon, the other never learnt to swim and is doing so to overcome a fear of water. Equations for a Moving Body is Hannah Nicklin’s solo performance telling the story of her decision to complete an ironman and the research she did to discover what would happen to her body as she trains. Remember to Breathe follows fictional Maeve away from the safety of family and a secure job in Ireland, to world travels that eventually find her in New Zealand. Though Hannah and Maeve approach swimming completely differently, the sport shapes who they are and how they deal with obstacles that come their way.
Maeve and her kiwi husband Grant are back in Ireland when the Christchurch earthquake hits. The Celtic Tiger has been and gone, and their business is struggling so they decide to head to the southern hemisphere to help rebuild. It’s here that Maeve discovers a pool in the wreckage, staffed by the relentlessly perky Doreen. In that pool, Maeve gently catalogues her life through her relationship to her father. He and Doreen fade in and out again like memories in this quiet, reflective piece on family and finding your place in the world.
Liz Fitzgibbon as Maeve has a calm strength and enigmatic presence. This everywoman of a character with relatable struggles trying to find peace is a reassuring story to witness, though the lack of outright conflict between characters makes for a sleepy pace.
Julie Sharkey as Doreen and David Heap has Maeve’s earthy, grounded father are great foils constructed by writer Orla Murphy. As well as Maeve’s personal journey that she comes to terms with through swimming, there’s a pointed throughline of the effects of the economy on the common man – a clever inclusion making the script universally relevant.
Maeve swims and came to it in her adult life, but Hannah is a swimmer and has been doing so since she was four. Hannah explains the difference between “I swim” and “I’m a swimmer” and the role goals and life events have in shaping one’s identity. Her decision to complete an ironman in the year she turned 30 becomes a part of who she is and how she lives her life, and Equations for a Moving Body is the moving story of the ups and downs of pushing your body to its limits.
The most engaging focus of Hannah’s story is the people she meets along her training journey. She has a gift for making John, Tom and the various scientists she meets along the way come alive, even if they only feature for brief moments. These encounters provide landmarks that make her story stand out from anyone else’s and excellent focal points of her narrative structure.
The story’s climax is the triathlon, with peaks and troughs that are magnified versions of those in her training. It’s a hugely satisfying and emotional end to a story of struggle, grief and triumph. Those who aren’t much for sport or fitness who find her initial goal baffling are on side at by the finish line.
Nicklin uses live internet use to support her story and add a visual element to the production. Though simple, it’s a great choice. These are almost all accompanied by her narrative, though one section is poignant in its silence and elucidates the source of the show’s name.
Hannah cements her sense of self through her training and its end goal, and Maeve finally finds the peace she is searching for. Both productions are lovely, if very different stories of personal discovery at Summerhall.
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