Brown Boys Swim at Pleasance Dome – Edinburgh Fringe review
Karim Khan's play is a runaway success
Ah shucks – there are times in plays when you realise you're listening to dialogue penned by a complete natural, who is almost inevitably going to be kept in the bright lights of the screen – where the opportunities are richer and more lucrative.
That's the sensation watching rising star Karim Khan's brilliant Brown Boys Swim – my final show of a cruelly short stay at the Edinburgh Fringe and the one leaving me tingling with a jolt of electricity and floored by an unexpected emotional blow.
The Oxford-based show follows two friends – Kash and Mohsen – realising they have to learn to swim in order to impress the ladies at a classmate's pool party. What sounds like a premise for a fun high school sitcom (and indeed, the humour here is as accomplished as everything else), quickly becomes a deeper, more provocative dive into the reality faced by non-white teenagers in the present day.
Khan never layers on the boys' experiences with racism too thickly. Instead, he subtly weaves themes into every encounter the pair have – from the way in which their classmates perceive them as potential drug pushers to their experiences in Westgate Shopping Centre. Two South Asian kids in a largely white city will always be made to stand out, and trying to swim against the tide is no easy task. Dreams cut through murky waters – Mohsen wants to get into Oxford, while Kash just wants to live his teenage life to the max. "Growing up's a scam though, ain't it", he states.
Director John Hoggarth makes everything land with effortless poise, added by the heartbreakingly authentic chemistry between the two actors Varun Raj and Anish Roy – whose bond of friendship is never called into question.
Kudos must go to sound designer Roshan Gunga, creating convincing splashes and sloshes of water, while James Button's versatile set goes from swimming pool to changing room to a tiled restaurant to a mosque. Brown Boys Swim will almost certainly have a bright future – as will its remarkable writer.