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Brown Boys Swim at Pleasance Dome (Jack Dome) – Edinburgh

The on-stage tiling makes it feel very much like certain scenes are set in a swimming pool, which may be stating the obvious but in a performance space that would never stretch to accommodating a full-sized public swimming pool, it felt as though the production had somehow done just that. Mohsen (Anish Roy) and Kash (Varun Raj), are school friends who find themselves left off the guest list for a party being hosted by Jess Denver. Mohsen makes enquiries and, to cut an already short story even shorter, they’re duly invited.

Brown Boys Swim, credit Peter Moffat.
Brown Boys Swim, credit Peter Moffat.

Their methods of learning, or attempting to learn, how to swim in preparation for the ‘pool party’ in question are both hilarious and just a tad pathetic – there is even the suggestion of laminating step-by-step instructions and sticking them (with what?) to the floor of the pool. Mohsen is rightly dismissive, and this is merely the starting point of what become chalk-and-cheese differences in approach to party preparation, and more widely, life in general.

Kash doesn’t want to live his life the way Mohsen seems to want to, the latter being (in Kash’s eyes, at least) a poster boy for conventionality, applying to study at Oxford before getting a decent graduate job, and later getting married, having children, and being a good family man. Mohsen pushes back to an extent, saying he’s applied to the University of Oxford because Oxford is where they happen to live.

There are plenty of laughs thanks to the boys’ banter, and as there are occasional forays into Urdu, there were knowing chuckles from those in the audience who understand both languages. I was later told how one or two of the phrases used translate: they are not repeatable. This, in itself, is a bold move, if only because it’s authentic enough to provide humour for those in the know, whilst remaining accessible, even without explanatory asides, to those (like me) who aren’t.

The movement (Sita Thomas) is phenomenal, with the duo utterly convincing in their swimming attempts despite there being no water on stage at all. The narrative stretches far beyond the pool, however: a shopping trip turns particularly nasty, just when Mohsen suggests going to the till to pay and get out of a shop, and the prejudices of security personnel are perhaps indicative of the prejudices of society more widely. Commendably, it’s all played out without a scintilla of preachiness.

The narrative includes pushbacks against the boys’ own societal norms as well as trying to survive, let alone thrive, in a world where they are generally eyed with suspicion. The imagery couldn’t have been clearer: in learning to physically swim, they are also learning how to keep their heads above water in other ways. A thrilling and engaging production that tells it like it is.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Boisterous, horny, self-opinionated best friends Mohsen and Kash aren’t going to let the fact they can’t swim get in the way of nabbing an invite to the biggest event of term – a pool party.
Fuelled by halal Haribo and platters of chicken wings, the hapless pair tackle cramped cubicles, cold showers and skin-tight trunks as they race to teach themselves how to be at one with the water. But learning how to swim is more than just a drop in the deep end – and it’s not long before this new way of moving begins to shift how they see each other and themselves.

Brown Boys Swim
Performance Dates Wednesday 3rd – Sunday 28th August 2022
Running Time 60 minutes

Pleasance Dome (Jack Dome), Potterow, Edinburgh, EH8 9AL
Writer Karim Khan
Director John Hoggarth
Movement Director Sita Thomas
Set and Costume designer James Button
Assistant Director Amelia Thornber

@TheNorthWall, @wordsofkarim

Brown Boys Swim
Pleasance Dome (Jack Dome), Potterow, Edinburgh, EH8 9AL


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