Soho Theatre, London – until 15 October 2022
Little can get in the way of teenagers’ hormones. In Kash and Mohsen’s case, the fact they can’t swim isn’t going to stop them going to the biggest event of the year, Jess Denver’s pool party. They’ll simply learn how so they don’t embarrass themselves in front of their entire year group. After all, Kash needs to flaunt his gains in front of the girls, and Mohsen will provide reluctant moral support. With a whole month to go, surely they can figure it out. Swimming’s not that hard, right?
But the two lads on the cusp of adulthood have a lot of other things on their plates. Mohsen expects to go to Oxford, and Kash isn’t sure what he wants to do yet. They’re busy with their families, faith and A-levels. As brown boys, they also constantly navigate racism and microaggressions, like when everyone stops what they were doing and stares at them the first time they go to the leisure centre pool. With these incidents, writer Karim Khan effectively emphasises that the lads struggle to keep their heads above water metaphorically as well.
Khan’s dialogue is the familiar and highly entertaining banter between two teen boys, though this is balanced with more adult comments touching on things like gentrification, the environment and how the white world around them views facial hair on brown men. Director John Hoggarth paces it well and ensures the more serious dialogue has breathing space. Though delivered with engaging energy by Anish Roy and Varun Raj, sometimes the pair push too hard and there are moments that ring false.
Most impactful is the unexpected ending where the actual stakes are revealed, after have been largely masked by the frivolity of the premise. There’s some brief foreshadowing, but this is glossed over by the boys’ vivacity and focus on impressing their peers so it’s easy to miss. The reality – that young people aren’t invincible after all – effectively clotheslines the comedy and highlights tragic flaws that can be the undoing of those with even the best of intentions.
Brown Boys Swim runs through 15 October.
The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.