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Sexual enlightenment in a turbulent political era

By Lincolnshire Echo  |  Posted: March 22, 2012

  • Love story: Featuring two male dancers and two musicians, Earthfall's At Swim Two Boys, at the Lincoln Drill Hall on March 27-28, comes to life in a slowly filling lake in front of a wall of water

  • Compelling: Focus is placed on the boys' relationship

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How many theatre technicians does it take to build a set that is gradually immersed in water on stage?

Featuring two male dancers and two musicians, At Swim Two Boys will come to life in a slowly filling lake in front of a wall of water at Lincoln Drill Hall.

Unlike anything audiences will have experienced before, Earthfall's touring production is set in Ireland in 1916 and tells the story of a developing love affair between two young men coming of age against a turbulent political backdrop.

To coincide with the 10th anniversary of the novel by Irish writer Jamie O'Neill, At Swim Two Boys contrasts the slaughter on the Western Front against the dream of national liberation and the search for personal freedom.

Co-artistic director Jessica Cohen says: "Jamie O'Neill worked with us some years before At Swim Two Boys was published, on a commission from the UK Year of Literature Festival called 'forever and ever'.

"After that he got this wonderful book published. He was working as a hospital porter, and at night when things weren't too busy he was writing it. It took him ten years before he felt it was good enough to send to a publisher. They were so excited, they gave him an advance of £1 million.

"The story is based in Dublin around 1915 to 1916. World War One is volatile in mainland Europe and then there's the huge upheaval of the Easter Rising in Dublin.

"At the centre of the story we have this love affair. The boys are teenagers. It's young love and there's this whole theme about discovering your own sexuality. It doesn't matter whether it's two boys or a boy and a girl, the themes are universal. We didn't make it thinking we are making a gay dance piece, it's just a touching love story."

The concept for designing an onstage set from water was conceived around a central theme in the book.

"The boys give themselves a challenge to swim to a distant island called Muglins Rock," says Jessica. "The one who is a strong swimmer is going to teach the other. When they get to the island they put their flag up and claim it as their own."

It is a timely metaphor in the midst of this volatile world of countries warring and sexual politics.

"We loved that every day they are swimming and it led us to think how exciting it would be to set it in water. Getting there was all a matter of exploration. It really just started with us chucking a bucket of water over the dancers in the studio.

"Within our story, with the two dancers, all we really focus on is the boys' relationship. The production is non-verbal in nature. It's also not really linear so it doesn't have a clear story throughout but it does have a sense of journey.

One of the dancers, Daniel Connor, says the element of water provides a unique perspective for the audience and the dancers.

"The entire set is lit and you can hear the water hitting the floor from the start," he says. "That sets up a special environment for the audience – as they walk in they are met with something they will never have seen in the theatre.

"That water is constantly getting deeper and deeper. Towards the end the boys take their clothes off and go for a swim. At the beginning the boys are 15 and mates and they don't know what these feelings they have for each other are."

Earthfall's At Swim Two Boys at Lincoln Drill Hall on Tuesday and Wednesday, March 27-28 (8pm). Tickets: £12 (£10 concs / £8 students). (01522) 873894 www.lincolndrillhall.com

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