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A Coming-of-Age Story With a Difference

Brown Boys Swim written by Karim Khan and directed by John Hoggarth. Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, until 30 September 2023.

Review by Sue Beech.

If theatre is about conjuring a world, this production surely delivers. A cast of only two, a minimal set comprising just a low wall and two slatted benches, imaginative and clever choreography, and impeccably timed sound effects together take us into the lives of two British Asian teenagers at the time of their transition from school into the next stage of their lives.

Kashif Ghole plays Kash, bursting with energy and confident boastfulness, which hide his adolescent doubts and wistful desire to be liked; while Ibraheem Hussain is the more cautious and thoughtful Mohsen, aspiring to Oxford University but more realistic than his friend in his view of their place in the world.

Ibraheem Hussain and Kashif Ghole. Photo courtesy of the Belgrade Theatre.

A schoolmate is about to hold a pool party and Kash determines they should attend – but, like many Muslims, they don’t know how to swim; so they decide to learn in order to keep face at the party. As they brave the local swimming pool, egging each other on in this ‘foreign’ space, trying to blend in despite the stares, their strong friendship and shared culture emerge from their joshing squabbles.

The pair’s attempts to stay afloat in the pool and the river mirror their struggles to stay afloat in an Oxford where Islamophobia is everywhere: the fear at the pool of seeing brown bodies, their school reputation of being drug dealers, the suspicion of security guards in the shopping mall – these are just some examples of the everyday racism they face.

Taking the plunge. Photo courtesy of the Belgrade Theatre.

Khan’s play explores the difficulties of young Muslim men as they search for their sense of identity in a world that so often fails to understand their community, their culture, their history, their religion. There are no concessions to a white audience – the language is that of young British Muslims, mixing English with words from their own culture; the rituals of their religion are taken for granted; who in the white community knew that even Haribos can be halal? This gives the play a strong authenticity. It is an experience not to be missed.


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