Review: Brown Boys Swim, Soho Theatre

Karim Khan’s hit play Brown Boys Swim transfers from the Edinburgh Festival to Soho Theatre in great form

“Be a coconut, be a bigot but don’t be a coward”

Karim Khan’s play Brown Boys Swim arrives at the Soho Theatre replete with good notices and multiple award wins from Edinburgh. And on this evidence, it is clear to see why, as John Hoggarth’s production is insightful and interesting in its refreshing portrayal of young Muslim men and the unique pressures they face whilst dealing with the minor inconvenience of teenage angst as well. 

Kash and Mohsen are sixth-formers in Oxford and have got an invite to the social event of the season, a pool party with the cool kids. Only problem is like many South Asian teenagers, they can’t swim. And setting about trying to fix it proves to be trickier than you might think (especially if you’re white) as simply being brown throws up obstacles that have to be negotiated alongside issues that bubble up between them.

The reality of Islamophobia is presented starkly – the security guards hassling them, the pool staff demanding to search them, the assumptions from their peers that they’re drug dealers. But there’s also real power in the everyday nature of their conversation, chatting about familial expectation and the pressures to conform with things like drinking alcohol, and interest in how their ways to deal with stuff contrasts remarkably.

Varun Raj’s Kash and Anish Roy’s Mohsen are both brilliant as they give us a beautifully convincing friendship of real depth. Raj gives us all the brashness and bravado of someone using cockiness to cover for self-doubt and Roy finds a gentler thoughtfulness for his less confrontational lad. James Button’s design does wonders in evoking the world of swimming pools and changing rooms, perfect for this achingly good play.

Running time: 1 hour (without interval)
Photos: Geraint Lewis
Brown Boys Swim is booking at Soho Theatre until 15th October

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