New Play Recalls the Heyday of Templemore Baths

Prime Cut's new 'then and now' play explores culture, community and closure through the history of a building

In 1912 the Templemore Baths in east Belfast, built in 1893, was the hub of the local community, frequented by housewives, children and dock-workers. In 2012, despite still being a working gym and pool, the baths are in danger of closing.

The Baths, a multi-disciplinary theatre encounter from Prime Cut Productions, explores the ‘then and now’ of the venerable building. Audience members are taken on a personal, intimate tour of the building that flicks back and forth through the century.

Director Louise Lowe immersed herself in the history of the building while working on The Baths, noting enthusiastically that ‘it has been a vital part of the community for so long’. Some of the history is positive – ‘people like George Best swam here’ – and some a little darker. ‘During the war the pool featured in The Baths [the facility originally had two heated pools, only one of which is still used] was used as a morgue for dead bodies.’

A lot of that history isn’t touched on in The Baths. ‘We focus on 1912 and 2012,’ Lowe says, leading the way into the building. ‘Not so much the years inbetween.’

Only three audience members will be allowed into the building at a time (although there are three shows an hour, nine a night). They are taken on a tour of the building that includes the baths themselves – rows of cubicles with institutional green tubs, the laundry and the now-empty swimming pool.

All the actors encountered on the way through the baths – from the texting teens to the grumpy stoker – are members of the Templemore community. Some of them, like Bobby Porter, remember what the Baths used to be like.

‘It was a way of life. The thing was it was really good fun with all the shouting and singing and laughing. It was something else. You don't have that sort of fun nowadays,’ he says. ‘The morning I got married I came here from the night shift at Harland and Wolff. I got a bath here before I got married in St Patrick’s Church at the Newtownards Road.’

Lowe is full of praise for the actors, many of whom have never done anything like this before. ‘They are extraordinary in terms of attitude and discipline. It has been really exciting to work on this with them.’

Community involvement, on all levels, has been an important element of The Baths since its inception. In fact, Prime Cut's commitment to that involvement predates the project itself.

Prime Cut and Lowe, who has a 10-year history of working on community-focused, site-specific theatre, had been looking for a project that would engage the east Belfast community when they came across Templemore Baths. 'It seemed ‘such an exciting place, with so many possibilities. It had been a part of so much and still is a part of so much.’

The Baths was developed with input from Templemore community groups and centres, as well as people who just wanted to get involved. There was even a group retreat to Lustybeg Island in Fermanagh where they spent a weekend working out what should and shouldn’t go into the show.

‘Each idea came from the group, not just from Prime Cut,’ Lowe says. ‘It had to come from within so there is a real sense of ownership and pride.’

The result of that collaboration is a blend of soundscapes, dance and theatre sans the fourth wall. Although interactivity isn’t mandated (‘There’s nothing worse than being told you have to participate!’ Lowe laughs), it is possible in various scenes throughout The Baths.

Lowe says that what she wanted to accomplish was a piece of theatre that depended on that communion – whether interactive or not – between cast and audience. Just as the people of Templemore gave the baths meaning beyond stone and water, so the presence of the audience changes the production. To understand the importance the baths had to the community it has to be experienced, not just seen or thought about.

‘The building should shape the work,’ Lowe says. ‘And this is what the building is saying.’

The Baths runs from May 7 - 12. Tickets can be booked through The MAC website.