How Not To Drown (3 stars)

This article is from 2019

How Not To Drown

Photography: Helen Maybanks; design: Matt Hodges

As asylum seeker reflects on his journey to the UK and his experience of social services

'I was just a little kid' says Dritan, the central figure in How Not To Drown, a co-production between ThickSkin and the Traverse, with Tron Theatre and Lawrence Batley Theatre. He's an 11 year old asylum seeker arriving in the UK after his homeland is ravaged by war. With most of the world ripping itself apart on fault-lines of race and immigration, it's frustrating that the expositional dump that opens How Not To Drown avoids any political details and settles for the blandest platitudes.

One issue is that Dritan Kastrati plays himself; he's fine as an actor, but while the script constantly references his youth, Kastrati looks mature and conveys little vulnerability. Kastrati's script, co-written with Nicola McCartney, evokes the experience of being smuggled from Kosovo to Albania to the UK via Italy and Belgium, but while the details might be true, they're not always persuasive. When the boy is passed down the line and shaken-down for cash in the process, his complaints to unseen gang-masters are answered and responded to with a vigour that would put most budget airlines to shame; this might well have happened, but it doesn't add anything to the story. Equally, when the action moves to a critique of British social services, foster parents are good or bad depending on whether they provide take-way meals (good) or offer curry (bad) – not much of a critique at all.

How Not To Drown does pack a lot of action into its 85 minute running time, but the twin targets of people-smuggling and social services aren't meshed in any effective way. Vigorous playing and effective staging only go so far; addressing a subject this vital, and saying so little about it, smacks of box-ticking, and the moral – that we should all do what we can for each other – feels like a minimal reward.

Traverse, Edinburgh, until 25 Aug (not 12, 19), times vary, £22 (£16.50); Tron Theatre, Glasgow, Wed 11–Sat 14 Sep.

How Not to Drown

  • 3 stars

True story of Dritan, a child asylum seeker who makes the perilous journey across the Adriatic and must then endure the British care system.