Never Swim Alone, or when male egotism catches up with itself

Presented this year at Theatre Kingston’s Fringe Festival, Spur Of The Moment Productions’ of Daniel MacIvor’s Never Swim Alone is about two men who grew up together and are stuck in a perpetual pissing contest. 

The whole piece is a show of one-upmanship, the two men wanting to be the taller man, the richer man, the better dressed man, the man with the better family. This possibly all started when they were kids and got in a swimming competition with a girl they were both interested in, and spoiler alert: she dies. 

Ultimately, I found the piece intriguing, despite the performance being a competition occurring over thirteen rounds. The referee (Siobhán McMahon) watched playfully as the men battled, giving either a thumbs up or a thumbs down if a person had won the round. Frank (Christian Milanovic) and Bill (Zachary Pasquino) spoke in a refined synchronization, creating a playful atmosphere. The work started lighthearted, with light banter and poking fun at one another. If one of the men were to lose the round, they simply got the opportunity to speak some more. And as the rounds went on, the verbal jabs turned into physical hits. 

I’m going to take this moment to mention that I hate men. By that, I mean I hate the way men have been socialized. I despise the patriarchy and toxic masculinity is my enemy. Don’t get me wrong, I think the production was well done! Enjoyable to sit through even. Director Matthew Davis was able to make some really fun moments occur as phone calls were taken, and the three were transported back into the water. The actors had a lovely physicality, where many of the repeated words aided the lack of a full breath, symbolizing drowning—both literal and metaphorical within the work. But unsurprisingly, the play does not pass the Bechdel test, although McMahon held down the fort for a character with few words

Siobhan McMahon as the Referee.

So, maybe hating the characters is exactly what was intended. I did not know anything about the piece before coming in to see it, though after a search on the World Wide Web terms such as “satire”, “metaplay” and “gender parody” came up. Which, yes! Yes, it is all of those things, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it! If we really wanted a gender parody, how might the themes of the story be highlighted with two women and one man instead? 

Never Swim Alone is a Canadian classic that just needs a little more reinvention than what the script calls for. My understanding of the work is that it’s meant to be a critique of the ways in which men have been socialized, yet the play as it stands does not offer anything more than making toxic masculinity known. A production of this play with women at the forefront could’ve led to a bigger conversation where the harms that come to all members of society can be at the forefront. 

Same script, different bodies—think about the possibilities. 

Produced by Spur of the Moment Productions, Daniel McIvor’s Never Swim Alone ran from August 4-14th at the Theatre Kingston Fringe Festival, produced by The Kick & Push Festival.