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Theatre review: How Not To Drown

An AK-47 is too big for Dritan to load conventionally. Assault rifles aren’t built with a nine-year-old user in mind. Forced to adapt to the dangerous conditions of his war torn country he teaches himself to ready the weapon with his feet. You learn to be flexible when you are continually faced with immovable objects.

How Not to Drown co-written and starring Dritan Kastrati, follows the true story of his journey to the United Kingdom and gives harrowing insight to the experiences of a child seeking asylum. During the first 40 minutes of this play audiences see a young boy travel alone from Kosovo to Albania, through Italy, Switzerland and Belgium, all in search of safety.

Throughout the production Kastrati is joined onstage by four other cast members, Ajjaz Awad, Esme Bayley, Daniel Cahill and Sam Reuben. The actors all play multiple characters, including a young Dritan. The script has a couple of weak moments – long monologues can be a little overwhelming when used as frequently as they are in How Not to Drown. Overall each persona is well portrayed by the ensemble and the cast do an impressive job with each new encounter. Kastrati’s performance is energetic, passionate and moving. Momentary lapses of focus are not forgiving in this fast-paced production however, there are ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ role changes.

In contrast, Becky Minto’s set design is atmospheric – a tilted, revolving platform that occupies the entirety of The Grand Theatre’s stage. Coupled with flawlessly executed physical theatre reminiscent of theatre company Frantic Assembly’s work, Minto’s refrained set amplifies some beautiful choreography. It’s not what we have, but who.

After surviving his passage to England we hear of the challenges Dritan faces whilst navigating our country’s care system. After passing through a range of temporary accommodation Dritan is placed with a foster family who use the terms ‘not appropriate’ and ‘measures for both us and you’ when referring to warm gestures between caregivers and their ward. Desperately seeking familial companionship, he attempts to connect with an older brother who is also in the UK. He is met with formality from his social workers who are constrained by a system of rules and regulations that prevent the siblings from seeing one another.

Dritan Kastrati has been thrown into the deep end over and over again. How Not to Drown is a story of adaptation and survival. Whether that is keeping a family afloat throughout war, guiding a small boat through an ocean storm or holding your head above the waves of bureaucracy.

How Not To Drown by Thick Skin Theatre was at the Grand Theatre 15th-17th March and visits Oldham Coliseum this week.

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