Jessica Harris watches the North Wall performance at The Door.
Friendship, cultural identity and the pressure to conform. These themes ripple through The North Wall’s riveting production, Brown Boys Swim.
Learning to swim is used as a metaphor for the struggles of the two boys, Mohsen and Kash, as they come to terms with a world in which they will opt for different paths. In their attempts to learn, they also find out that they need to loosen the threads that bind them to each other.
Mohsen, played by Ibraheem Hussain, is destined to get a first-class degree from Oxford, marry someone of his parent’s choosing and live the life of a good Muslim. Kash, played by Kashif Ghole, is both more and less willing to conform. Impatient to test his sexual prowess and open to trying alcohol in order to fit in, his identity and faith are still close to his heart. As he says, doing things that Mohsen does not, doesn’t make him any less a Muslim.
The boys’ relationship with their cultural identity is explored with humour and subtlety. Jokes about whether Haribo is halal butt up against the harsh reality of racial and religious stereotyping. They have only been invited to the pool party (hence the need to learn to swim) because the host is hoping they will bring drugs with them; they are suspected of shop-lifting simply because they are in a shop looking at swim-wear.
The impact of this stereotyping is palpable. Kash, alert to the dangers of being found guilty without cause, acquiesces to the demands of the authorities. Conscious that he is being looked at by others in the pool, he opts for the river to learn to swim. Consequences follow.
On stage, both Ibraheem Hussain and Kashif Ghole are energised and yet nuanced in their delivery, and the friendship they present is totally convincing. At times, some words are lost because of an occasional over-fast delivery, but the essence is there, and the performances are fully absorbing. The script, written by Karim Khan, is subtle in its gradual revelation of the inner worlds of Mohsen and Kash. John Hoggarth’s direction of the piece creates strong authenticity.
The soundtrack, composed and designed by Roshan Gunga, is an added joy, including instrumental tracks with both western and eastern influences. High-energy Bhangra music and dance feature at beginning and end.
Frequent changes of set and costumes keep the pace moving, with the set, a simple block covered in a mosaic of tiles, representing variously the side of a swimming pool, the interior of a gym, and a river-side.
Brown Boys Swim is on at The Door at the Birmingham Rep, and is well worth seeing. It runs until 4th November; for further information visit birmingham-rep.co.uk.
Pics – Geraint Lewis.