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Dreaming and Drowning by Kwame Owusu at Bush Theatre

Joyful, funny and thoughtful, Dreaming and Drowning, the new debut play by Kwame Owusu tells the story of Malachi as he moves to uni and has many strange new experiences, but can’t quite shake some demons from the past.

Tienne Simon as Malachi in 'Dreaming and Drowning' at Bush Theatre. Photo © Ellie Kurttz.
Tienne Simon as Malachi in ‘Dreaming and Drowning’ at Bush Theatre. Photo © Ellie Kurttz.

Malachi (Tienne Simon) is at uni, he’s meeting people, and getting drunk, and life appears to be on the up for our young protagonist. Studying at Bristol, reading Hurston to Hemingway it is the world he has been waiting for. He is gay and finally no longer needs to hide that. It is in this environment that he meets the utterly enchanting Kojo, and sparks fly.

That being said, being black at an overwhelmingly white university has its issues. Malachi tells frustratingly of a comedically insufferable white guy somehow managing to tell Malachi what he doesn’t know about the significance of certain slurs in contemporary environments. And while the story of the white person saying the n-word while reading out a classic work of American fiction is a story we are all familiar with, the writer does a good job of riling us all up at an arrogant idiotic pretentious character straight out of Saltburn. But then it’s a pretty obvious point, just because you are quoting a book doesn’t give you a golden ticket to go wild with slurs.

Tienne Simon is what brings this piece together. He is charming and wins the audience over immediately in this tight hour of monologue. Simon takes a while to settle in, but is at his best when executing a well-set-up punchline. It is these jokes and the undeniable warmth of his presence on stage that enable him to go into the deeper elements of this story.

Throughout the piece, Malachi has recurring nightmares that begin to seep into his day-to-day life. The dream is that some kind of sea creature is stalking him, lurking in the murky depths of his subconscious. The problem I found late in the play is that it was quite hard to work out what this grand metaphor is about. I quite like to be left wondering, but I didn’t really know where the play’s soul was, whether it was about his frustration with casual unchallenged racism in seminar rooms, his lack of social confidence, or a belief in himself.

Dreaming and Drowning is a joyful play that will leave you hopeful, and this is not as common as it should be in plays about minority ethnic, queer romances. It is funny, well-paced, and engaging and while it might not pack the emotional punch that it could have, I enjoyed it.

4 stars

Review by Tom Carter

Malachi’s been looking forward to a fresh start at uni for months. He’s settling in, he’s got a stack of books to read and he’s met someone new – Kojo, a musician with a megawatt smile, who’s basically perfect.

But something doesn’t feel right. He keeps having the same nightmare – sinking, crushed by the weight of the ocean – and it’s getting worse… A beast grows in the water, hungry, relentless, hunting him but always just out of sight. As the boundaries between nightmare and reality fracture, Malachi must fight harder than ever to stay afloat.

Written and directed by Kwame Owusu
A Bush Theatre production in association with WoLab



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