Making a splash down at the lido
As the open-air theatre season gets under way, Yvette Huddleston meets the company hoping to make a splash at Ilkley Lido.
OPEN-air theatre is very much part of the summer arts scene. Despite the unpredictability of the British weather, performances take place in all sorts of venues, from castles to parks and ruined abbeys.
Few are usually presented in swimming pools. Until now, that is. Next week, a young London-based sitespecific company, Listed Theatre, will be presenting a performance at Ilkley Lido as part of a short tour of outdoor swimming pools around the country.
The play, Listed Lido, is a piece of documentary theatre created from interviews with people associated with the four art-deco lidos in which the company are performing this summer.
Artistic director Jessica Manley explains the thinking behind Listed Theatre.
“ We were a group of drama students who were all interested in site-specific theatre – but we wanted to do something a bit different. There is a lot of site-specific theatre going on at the moment but what we had noticed was that while many of the pieces were excellent, they weren’t really sitespecific in the sense that they were quite often fairly conventional theatre that was being performed in an unusual place. What we wanted to do was to create theatre that was dictated by the site or even actually about the site.”
The group then started to contact organisations who were campaigning for listed buildings (hence the name) or trying to save a property that was either under threat of demolition or of being converted into something else.
They got a tremendous response and one of the first places they visited was Broomhill Pool, in Ipswich.
“The pool is absolutely beautiful,” says Jessica. “And although we knew that we wouldn’t be able to actually perform there, we started doing development work, with the idea of going on tour with the project.”
They gathered people’s memories of Broomhill and then went through the same process interviewing people at other lidos.
“Time and again, we found how much people valued their lidos. It’s not just about nostalgia either; it is about bringing a community together.”
At all the lidos we visited, there was this sense of a kind of extended family.
The play is based on verbatim material with the production framed by six young offenders arriving at the pool to work there as part of their community service. Their rehabilitation also includes carrying out research into the lido’s history.
“That idea came about when we went to Broomhill because we actually met a group of people there who were doing community service,” says Jessica.
“Most of them said that they really valued being a part of a project like that and how great it was to see their hard work making such a difference to the place.”
The central story is about a couple who meet and fall in love at the pool and how it continues to play an important part in their lives, while other narratives intertwine from different eras.
“It was the stories of the people we interviewed and the passion they obviously had for their lido that drove the piece,” says Jessica.
“At all the lidos we visited, there was this sense of a kind of extended family.”
Also included in the piece are descriptions about what it feels like to swim, the beneficial effects it can have and how being in water helps us to connect with nature and the elements.
“One quote that stays with me came from someone I spoke to at Tooting Bec Lido in London,” says Jessica. “He said ‘a day without swimming is not a good day’.”
The company hope to tour again next summer; they have already been invited by other pools around the country.
“If it helps to prevent more lidos closing down, that’s great,” says Jessica.
“It is really important, otherwise we wouldn’t be doing it.”
Listed Lido is at Ilkley Lido on June 29 and 30. Listed Theatre is a community interest company. For tickets, call 07576 169620 or visit www.listedtheatre.com
DIFFERENT STROKES: The cast of ListedLido.