Brown Boys Swim

Karim Khan
The North Wall
Soho Theatre Upstairs

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Brown Boys Swim Credit: Geraint Lewis
Brown Boys Swim Credit: Geraint Lewis
Brown Boys Swim Credit: Geraint Lewis

The last year in school can be a testing time in many ways and, if you happen to be Muslim in Britain, there is that extra difficulty of racism. Karim Khan’s generally upbeat, fast-moving play explores these things in what initially feels like a mildly amusing situation comedy but becomes more serious over its nineteen short scenes.

The two schoolboys Kash and Mohsen are expecting good results so they feel optimistic about the future. Mohsen’s grades mean he can get into the prestigious local Oxford university while Kash prefers Manchester.

Kash (Varun Raj) is also keen on the news that Jess, a school student they know, is having a pool party. Mohsen (Anish Roy) points out they haven’t been invited and they can’t swim. Kash enthusiastically sweeps such difficulties aside saying they will learn to swim and Jess will invite them.

This is not quite as simple as they hoped. Taking a trip to the community leisure centre pool, they find they are stared at by other swimmers. Worse, when they go to buy swimming shorts, the security guard demands they are searched.

However, Kash is not discouraged even when Mohsen tells him he overheard Jess in the library saying she invited the pair because they are bringing the gear. Their brown skin had signalled drugs to this wealthy Oxford school student.

When one of them starts to grow a beard, the other tells him that it makes him look radicalised, to which the swift response is, “be a coconut, be a bigot but don’t be a coward.”

We never get to know why the pair didn’t learn to swim in earlier years though we can certainly see in this thoughtful, well performed, at times moving play many of the contributing social reasons that would discourage them from trying.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna