Art of Swimming Reviews

Tiny Dynamite presents Lynda Radley’s ‘The Art of Swimming’
Staying afloat
by Mark Cofta, December 9, 2017, Broad Street Review

Lynda Radley’s The Art of Swimming could just as easily be titled The Art of Storytelling. Her one-woman show, in Tiny Dynamite’s splendid production, serves a dual purpose. It shares both the story of Mercedes Gleitze, the first British woman to swim the English Channel (in 1927), and the playwright’s discovery of her tale in 2015 in the Cork City Library’s dusty archives.

Daniel Ison and Lee Minora use bold strokes to tell Gleitze’s tale. (Photo by Emilie Krause)
Both stories are gripping — full of challenges, doubts, and triumphs despite overwhelming odds – and each has a distinctive voice. Gleitze’s thoughts are shared with us directly, in first person; Radley’s, however, are written in second person. Lee Minora switches from her natural speaking voice to Gleitze’s clipped British accent, and from saying “I” as Gleitze to addressing us as “you” when Radley describes her writing efforts.

Cheerful plunge

Under Kathryn MacMillan’s expert direction, Minora cheerfully plunges into both characters, switching suddenly while walking among us. Sara Outing’s scenic design uses four small areas in the Headhouse Café’s second-floor party room, with Minora walking, dashing, and even swimming through the room’s 10 tables. Outing’s props are easily accessible, hidden cleverly in each playing spot. Alyssandra Docherty’s lighting is deceptively simple, artfully transforming this multipurpose room into a theater.

Minora, a warm, welcoming, witty narrator, asks us to imagine being small-town poor people seeing a celebrity for the first time.

Much of the hourlong play concerns Gleitze’s drive for record-setting endurance swimming despite facing overwhelming sexism. Her Channel triumph was questioned because another woman falsely claimed to have done it; subsequently, the media of the day cast doubt on all women.

Gleitze scrupulously documented her many other achievements, such as being the first person to swim the Strait of Gibraltar. The play is not a compendium of events, however – marriage, children, and charity work are barely mentioned – but rather a personal, utterly captivating exploration of the long-distance swimmer’s psyche.

Subtler, but no less intimate, is Radley’s struggle to write Gleitze’s story despite a suffocating office job. Gleitze’s descriptions of swimming “a straight liquid line” despite distractions from without (jellyfish, cold, currents) and within (hunger, boredom, doubt) mirror the writer’s solitary efforts, which, in second-person address, become ours. Daniel Ison’s live musical accompaniment on guitar and piano, a continuous storytelling partner, enhances the juxtaposition and introspective mood, taking us deeper into both characters. The Art of Swimming amuses, mesmerizes, and stays with us long afterward.

You should know this part by now

Tiny Dynamite’s A Play, A Pie and A Pint is their version of the Oran Mor Theatre’s PPP in Glasgow, Scotland. One-act plays, usually an hour or less, are served with a pie (pizza here) and a pint (beer or soda – Headhouse Café’s vanilla stout is very nice) for an affordable price ($20) at a non-traditional time. In Scotland, it’s lunch; here, 6:30pm. Tiny Dynamite also offers a dessert performance – of, yes, pie! — on Saturdays at 9:30pm. The Art of Swimming is Tiny Dynamite’s seventh PPP. Next up is One-Night Stands, readings of short plays about love and sex for Valentine’s Day (February 14 – 16).


Theatre Review: Fascinating and unique experience with Tiny Dynamite Theater Company
by Dennis Bloh, December 10, 2017, Philly Review.


Tiny Dynamite Theater Company’s new Producing Artistic Director, the highly regarded K.C. MacMillan opens her tenure with a delightful piece of theater, THE ART OF SWIMMING by Irish playwright, Lynda Radley.

The patrons last night at the HeadHouse Café second floor were treated to a fascinating, unique performance from the charming, Lee Minora and the musically talented Daniel Ison.

In this basically one woman play, Lee Minora plays both the playwright and Mercedes Gleitze, the first British woman to swim the English Channel. Minora slips with great facility between the two characters. She does an amazing job delineating the characters from the bookish playwright, Lynda Radley and the driven, singularly focused, Mercedes Gleitze. I had no trouble identifying who was talking and the playwright did a good job keeping the segments to an enjoyable length. Ms. Minora is especially charming while inhabiting the character of Gleitze. She embraces the character’s thought process, giving us insight into the discipline that is necessary for someone to accomplish such an Herculean feat. She also captures the fear and doubt that Gleitze experienced along the way.

Another aspect of the play that I found interesting was the use of language. Lynda Radley imbues her play with a multitude of metaphors and similes initially to explain specific aspects of long distance swimming, but ultimately to emphasize the over arching metaphor of the play. It soars past the individual accomplishment of one woman to the fleeting nature of fame and the ability of one determined person to bring that fame back to life if only briefly.

Supporting Ms. MacMillan’s vision is the music of Daniel Ison who effortlessly punctuates the words of the play with his subtle instrumentations. In addition, Alyssandra Docherty’s lighting design nicely nuances the space as Ms. Minora races throughout the audience.

The American premiere of The Art of Swimming plays at the second floor of the HeadHouse Café, 122 Lombard Street until December 17th. Being part of A Play, A Pie and A Pint, you receive a slice of pie and a glass of beer or soda along with this wonderful one-hour experience in theater. For tickets and more information visit


Review: ‘The Art of Swimming’ at Tiny Dynamite
by Deb Miller December 8, 2017, DC Metro Theater Arts


Opening Tiny Dynamite’s seventh season of “A Play, A Pie, and A Pint” – its popular happy-hour series of one-act plays, which includes a slice of pizza and a beer or soft drink with every ticket – is the American premiere of Lynda Radley’s The Art of Swimming, a one-woman play about the author’s rediscovery of Mercedes Gleitze, the first person to swim the Straits of Gibraltar and, in 1927, at the age of 26, the first British woman to swim the English Channel. But those aren’t the only firsts with this presentation. Directed by KC MacMillan, it’s also the first production since her appointment as the company’s new Producing Artistic Director (taking over the reins from Founding Artistic Director Emma Gibson, who continues her association as Associate Artistic Director for Special Projects) and the first in a new venue, upstairs at Headhouse Café. In addition, the series will now, for the first time, offer Saturday night “dessert shows” starting at 9:30 pm.Starring Lee Minora (an accomplished solo performer who recently presented her original bouffon piece Cheeks in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe) as both Gleitze and Radley, the show takes the form of a memory play, with segments of the former enacting key moments from her life and the latter presenting the results of her research on the trailblazing athlete. She fluidly switches back and forth between characters with confidence, assuming an English accent for the swimmer and adopting a blustery Victorian-style British manner when imitating Captain Matthew Webb, the first man to swim the Channel in 1875 – but inexplicably uses her own American voice for the playwright (born in County Cork and living in Glasgow, Scotland), who, in reality, speaks with a distinctly Irish lilt (dialect coaching by Leonard Kelly).Under MacMillan’s active direction, Minora energetically moves through the cabaret space for the different scenes and locales, interacting with the audience, and, at times, addressing us directly, in a vigorously gestural performance. She recounts Gleitze’s experiences of first learning how to swim as a child, of her daring attempts to cross long-distance bodies of water, of her international celebrity as a swimmer, spokesperson for Rolex watches, and performer at the Blackpool Tower Circus, before her retirement from the sport, subsequent marriage and children, philanthropic work, and disappearance from the spotlight. Minora also gives us a taste of her strong and tuneful voice, singing the popular 1925 English song “Show Me the Way To Go Home” after the momentous swim. As Radley, she asks unanswerable questions of her long-deceased subject about what she couldn’t find documented (Gleitze died on February 9, 1981), and imagines the feelings she might have had as she faced the challenges of achieving her goals – including the public denouncement of her feat as a hoax and her “vindication swim” to prove the validity of her accomplishment (“Nothing great is easy”).

Supporting Minora is actor, composer, musician, and sound designer Daniel Ison, joining her in the background of some of the segments, and underscoring the moods of the story with his original live music on cello and guitar, and with transportive sound effects (the clicking of an old typewriter, the music of the era played on a gramophone, the movement of the water in which she swims). Alyssandra Docherty provides dramatic illumination, with spotlights that follow Minora around the venue, MacMillan costumes her in a present-day loose-fitting jumpsuit that allows for easy movement, and Sara Outing’s simple scenic design and props effectively aid in identifying the sites, people, and activities she discusses, and add touches of humor to the recollections (a cut-out handlebar mustache and hat, a tiny bucket of water for the tank at Blackpool).

While the outward subject of the show is Radley’s obsession with re-establishing the reputation of Gleitze as a groundbreaking female athlete, the traditional theme of memento mori(“remember death”) is its important underlying message. Inspired by an old photograph of the swimmer that she found tucked away in a library book, her play makes us consider the fleeting quality of life and fame, and the personal memorabilia that remain, while their meaning and their owner’s feelings are lost, and the person is forgotten with the passage of time and the people who knew her. It’s a poignant and thought-provoking moral (and one dealt with beautifully in the current Disney Pixar animated film Coco, based on the Mexican tradition of The Day of the Dead). But even with a running time of under an hour, the script becomes redundant (the conclusion summarizes what we all just saw performed), not all of the scenes are as noteworthy or riveting as others (some are quite dull and recitative, especially when Radley enumerates the known facts and written accounts of Gleitze’s biography), and too often it seems that there is more focus on the ego of the writer and her dedicated research and imaginings than on the appreciation of Gleitze’s life and career. Despite the issues I found with the script, and the Americanization of the playwright’s accent, Tiny Dynamite’s production of The Art of Swimming brings the story to life and delivers its universal message of the transitory nature of our existence loud and clear.

Running Time: Approximately 55 minutes, without intermission.

The Art of Swimming plays through Sunday, December 17, 2017, at Tiny Dynamite, performing upstairs at Headhouse Café – 122 Lombard Street, Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, call the box office at (215) 399-0088, ext. 1, or purchase them online.