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Just Keep Swimming: Building the World of ‘Swim, Aunty, Swim!’ by Siana Bangura

"Theirs is a journey of coming back home to oneself, and learning that you’re never too old to be reborn, to reinvent yourself, to find yourself again, to change and transition."

Writing a play is no small feat. Any playwright will tell you that. As with all art forms, creating theatre is an exposing, vulnerable, often deeply personal experience. You pen the tale; develop and refine the characters some more; share the work with others and get (lots of!) feedback; repeat. Then you start really bringing the work to life, and your co-conspirators – your creative collaborators – bring their own magic to the table. It’s an all-immersing process, requiring lots of heart and soul… and resilience!

Creating the world of Swim, Aunty, Swim! has been no different. We’ve poured lots of heart, lots of soul, lots of passion – and tonnes of magic into this work over the last few weeks, as showtime approaches. The journey of this work spans back much further than the last few weeks, or even months. The journey goes back to 2018 when I began writing the play. In fact, further back still, to 2010 when I got the tragic news that my friend had drowned in the Amazon, the day before leaving for university to start my own new life chapter.

I’ve been in a relationship with Belgrade Theatre since 2018: working as a freelance strategic consultant to support the development of Belgrade’s Youth Board; facilitating Senior Youth Theatre and directing a show called Being Human, led by a cohort of brilliant young people; freelance producing across community projects; and participating in the Critical Mass programme, a development initiative for local writers at the time. And it was during a writing session on the programme, in fact, that the early seeds for Swim, Aunty, Swim! were born. In response to a writing exercise (I can’t remember the exact prompt), two of my four characters came to life: ‘Ama’, in her luscious leopard print bathing suit, and ‘Blessing’, in her glorious gele took their seats in my mind, at the edge of a swimming pool. The rest, as they say, is history. I then went on to spend the next six years working on this story, connecting different first-hand as well as observed experiences of grief and loss; weaving in lessons from my campaigning work with grieving mothers; and entwining lore from my West African heritage – lifting up our mythologies of water deities like Mami Wata. These water deities are deeply connected to African spirituality, with their images being recognised by the continent’s children, be them at home or in the vast African diaspora.

Aunty Ama & Aunty Blessing (forefront), Aunty Fatu & Danny (background); photo credit Nicola Young Photography


Aunty Ama, Aunty Blessing, along with my beloved and complex Aunty Fatu, and tender Danny, have remained firmly and fondly in my mind and heart until the time was right for them to hit the stage and be shared with audiences. With showtime approaching, the whole team is working hard, throwing everything they’ve got into making this iteration of ‘Swim!’ as beautiful and impactful as possible.

The Cast & Creatives of Swim, Aunty, Swim!


I’m busy doing the comms run, having the pleasure of getting to tell people more about the work, and something I inevitably keep being asked is ‘why now’? Well, firstly, the universe ordained it so. Nothing happens before its rightful time, no matter how hard you push for it. This season is very much ‘Swim!’ season. I’m hearing lots of conversations regarding Black people’s relationship to swimming and water – such as a recent special episode of 1Xtra Talks with Richie Brave, which shouted out Swim, Aunty, Swim! of course, and veteran of this conversation, Swim Dem Crew, who have been engaging diverse communities through swimming for a number of years.

We are also in difficult times (when aren’t the times difficult?!), and folks need the arts more than ever, despite our sector continuing to be stripped of vital resources. As is my duty as an artist, in such times as these, I get to work and story tell, document, and archive. It has always been incredibly important to me to centre voices and experiences of those most marginalised by society, most impacted by its sharper edges, and help move them from the margins, to the centre.

‘Swim!’ is a story centring the lives of seasoned, mature West African women, in their prime, who are navigating complexities in their own lives, learning how to hold the darkness and the light all at once through their own struggles with grief and loss in different forms. Theirs is a journey of coming back home to oneself, and learning that you’re never too old to be reborn, to reinvent yourself, to find yourself again, to change and transition. The pedestrian world collides with the spiritual and our watery world is full of rituals, small and large. Our Aunties learn to swim very literally, thanks to their kind and patient young swimming instructor, Danny, but also mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, pushing through the tides with the help of one another.

Aunty Fatu, Aunty Ama & Aunty Blessing; photo credit Nicola Young Photography


This work is very much a homegrown piece, celebrating not just the power of migration and our interconnected histories across borders, but also centring Coventry, a city that has been my adopted home since 2012. I originally hail from South East London, but have been an honorary Coventrian for a decent chunk of my adult life. In ‘Swim!’, the characters find each other in Coventry at crucial turning points in their lives. I hope all those who come and see the show feel pride in our city, and feel encouraged to get to know their neighbour in a city as rich in cultural diversity as this.

I hope our audiences will belly laugh; reflect; learn; question; and find droplets of healing through the richness of ritual. As well as this, I hope this work serves as a celebration of ageing – too often in our societies women especially, are made to feel ashamed of growing older. To see more years and become more seasoned is an honour not afforded to everyone. So, I hope folks leave with some joy and curiosity around ageing and finding new purpose.

In this play, as in life, we hold darkness and light hand-in-hand, grief and joy live together.
‘Swim!’ is gorgeously culturally specific, and also beautifully universal. I hope folks see bits of themselves and people they know in Ama, Blessing, Fatu, and Danny. I have loved these characters for so long and I can’t wait for you to meet them!