Brown Boys Swim (Soho Theatre)

Posted: September 29, 2022 in Uncategorized
Photo: Geraint Lewis

Writer: Karim Khan

Director: John Hoggarth


Floating lightly over the choppy waters of social integration, Brown Boys Swim, an award-winning hit at the 2022 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, arrives well trumpeted, seeking to make a splash on the fringe of London’s West End. Karim Khan’s 70-minute comedy/drams turns out to be funny, relevant and, ultimately, moving.

Mohan (Anish Roy) and Kash (Varun Raj) are school boys in their late teens. They are British South Asians living in Oxford and aspiring to study at the local university. The dynamics of their long time friendship centre around the assumptions that Kash is the smarter of the two and that the more hesitant Mohan will follow wherever he leads. When Kash decides that the pair must attend a pool party, hosted by a class mate, his plans seem thwarted by the fact that neither can swim. So they set out to learn, with hilarious results.

Mohan and Kash fall between two cultural stools. Pulled in one direction by their Muslim faith and another by the need which they feel to integrate with the white English middle class, they find that the perceived social ladder which they hope to climb is actually a greasy pole. They are confronted by lingering traces of racial prejudice and lured into previously alien pursuits, such as drinking alcohol.

Khan’s writing captures the cheekiness, mixed with trepidation, of youth on the cusp of adulthood. The two protagonists tease each other playfully as they grapple with the potential challenges of the real world.

The writer’s message to the likes of Mohan and Kash seems to ask why they should bother going in for synchronised swimming with the pack when they can prosper by just being themselves.

Director John Hoggarth’s pacy production only slows to a crawl when necessary costume changes pause its momentum. It is energised by Roy and Ray, who form an argumentative comedy double act with great chemistry. James Button’s set design uses a minimum of props to allow for a maximum of movement, simulated swimming included.

There is poignancy underpinning all the comedy and it comes sharply to the surface in an unexpected ending. Brown Boys Swim offers up plenty of food for thought while it entertains.

Performance date: 28 September 2022

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