Jermyn Street’s new season is taking a blended approach with an option to be in the audience at their central London theatre or via the comfort of your own home. For practicalities I chose the streaming version but how I wish I had been in the room.
Somebody Jones’ How I Learned to Swim is a monologue about black people’s relationship with water through her lead character Jamie (a stunning performance from Merryl Ansah) who is not only battling with her own sense of failure as she turns 30 but the disappearance of her brother in mysterious circumstances.
When Jones invited me I was taken aback by the topic. In late 2019 I decided that I would learn to swim once I passed my probation at work which would allow me to work from home a couple of days a week. The Covid happened. Suddenly I was home all the time but the pool wasn’t available. The play tackles my concerns; black people don’t swim (despite British Olympians such as Kevin Burns, Bronze medallist Paul Marshall and the upcoming Alice Dearing), what about my hair and the chlorine (despite the fact I have bleached it during lockdown) and my own personal dislike of getting water in my ears. There is a vivid description of being underwater and attempting to float (Jamie sinks on one attempt) but swimming lessons are a gateway to tackling her other fears and sense of guilt, could she have done more to save her brother?
Ansah moves between Jamie, an American and Molly, her black British instructor, with such ease. I am slightly obsessed with her as an actress now (Sorry, Merryl) but crucially Jones’ script is a fight against the stereotypes of black people and water and this battle to tackle it, sometimes long after our white counterparts have and doesn’t shy away from it going wrong or feeling strange. Sometimes we don’t bother and accept the stereotypes. This play is a moving look at what we do to run away from pain and inspired me to finally book those swimming lessons (and buy ear plugs and very strong swimming cap)
How I Learned to Swim was at the Jermyn Street Theatre until 10 June