Tag Archives: Geraint Lewis

Brown Boys Swim

Brown Boys Swim

★★★★

Edinburgh Festival Fringe

BROWN BOYS SWIM at Edinburgh Festival Fringe

★★★★

 

Brown Boys Swim

 

“The real strength of Khan’s script is in the dialogue: natural, light and really playful”

 

Anish Roy and Varun Raj play two best friends, Mohsen and Kash, in a new play by Karim Khan about friendship, adolescence and religious identity. Mohsen and Kash are Muslim. Unlike their peers, they choose not to drink alcohol, don’t get invited to all the parties and, critically, can’t swim. After Kash manages to bag an invite to a pool party in one months’ time, they begin making regular visits to the local swimming pool to try and change this. But on their way to learning backstroke and front crawl, they begin to question other choices they make, and their friendship is put to the test with tragic consequences.

The real strength of Khan’s script is in the dialogue: natural, light and really playful. Rather than each scene revolving around big dramatic plot points, we get an insight into the dynamic between the characters, who pray together, spend time with each other’s families, and know each and every part of the other person. We also find out quite early on about an accident where a young man named Amir drowned some time earlier. The water is dangerous for two boys who never learnt to swim. Urdu phrases and other snippets of the boys’ culture are embedded in their conversations, and the scenes are performed with generosity and spontaneity by Roy and Raj. Kash is cheeky and flirty. Mohsen is more focused and averse to risk.

James Bailey’s lighting design takes us softly through a multi-coloured palette of blues and greens and purples. Combined with Roshan Gunga’s sound design and composition, with strings and splashes of water, the scene transitions give the feel of a gentle swim stroke, taking us carefully through the water to the next part of the story. James Button creates a blue-tiled wall, about waist-height, which is cleverly and subtly moved into different angles and positions, along with a couple of simple wooden benches to create the different scenes; it’s especially effective when the characters are behind it, the top of the wall acting as the pool edge, with Roy and Raj holding on for dear life, trying to find the courage to bop their heads below the water on the other side.

The script does build a little slowly, with a very abrupt plot-twist at the end which feels too fast to get the emotional impact I think this moment needs. We hear throughout the boys dealing with judgement, micro-aggressions and racism; shop security who assume they’re thieves; the revelation that the party invite was only because it was assumed they’d be bringing drugs; and the way the boys are stared at by people in the swimming pool. The ending attempts at showing the possible consequences of this structural, everyday prejudice, but it feels like a slightly shoehorned conclusion which jars with the tempo and energy of everything up to that point.

Questions around manhood, masculinity, and what makes a ‘good Muslim’, as well as the emotional dependency these two boys have on each other, is where the writing really thrives. Brown Boys Swim is an engaging drama, with compelling performances and a brilliant design and staging, with sharp direction from John Hoggarth.

 

 

Reviewed 14th August 2022

by Joseph Winer

Photography by  Geraint Lewis

 

 

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The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

★★★

Online via stream.theatre

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Online via stream.theatre

Reviewed – 25th February 2021

★★★

 

“With enough spectacle, big chorus numbers and powerful performances, this show could be a contender”

 

The latest offering by the Southwark Playhouse is a musical adaptation of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, based on Goethe’s famous poem. It’s a story probably better known to audiences as a cartoon version starring Mickey Mouse in Disney’s Fantasia, where the young Mickey attempts to emulate his sorcerer boss by casting a magic spell, and rapidly gets in over his head. Dancing broomsticks and magical mayhem on screen are accompanied by composer Paul Dukas’ memorable score. Goethe’s poem, on the other hand, focuses firmly on more troublesome themes, such as lying, and pretending to be something you are not, and how good intentions will not save you from the consequences of your own arrogance and ignorance. In the Southwark Playhouse version, with book and lyrics by Richard Hough, and music by Ben Morales Frost, an attempt is made to update the story by making the young apprentice a daughter desperate for her magician father’s approval. She isn’t arrogant, but with a typical teenager’s desire for independence, decides to flex her magical muscles before she’s quite ready. And to be fair, she has an overprotective father who tries to push her in directions she knows won’t work for her. The story is placed firmly in the north (with northern English accents) but rather bewilderingly, the location is referred to as Midgard. Before you get excited, I have to warn you there isn’t a Norse god in sight.

Perhaps the biggest problem with Hough and Frost’s version of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is that it tries too hard to be all things to everyone. It’s an unlikely mash up of magic versus science, northern belt and braces versus southern decadence, and capitalist exploitation of the working class. Add to that an environmental theme of human exploitation of natural resources, personified in the Aurora or Northern Lights that is somehow channeling its power through the magician and his child. In short, you have a plot that goes something like Ibsen’s Enemy of the People meets Mary Poppins. Goethe, this is not, even if there is a lively chorus of dancing broomsticks.

Nevertheless, this is a musical that has audience appeal. The diverse cast is charming, with particularly strong performances from Mary Moore as Eva, the Magician’s daughter, and David Thaxton, as her father, Johan. There is a heartwarming connection between these two on stage which is lovely to see, and it helps cement the drama that evolves as the two battle the evil capitalist forces of Fabian Lyddeker (Marc Pickering) and his strongwilled mother Lamia (Dawn Hope). Thaxton in particular, brings a nice intensity to his role of a man trying to keep his daughter safe from the powers that threaten to overwhelm them both. The strengths of this musical lie in the music and lyrics, and director Charlotte Westenra stages the action in such a way that gives the singers and dancers plenty of space (in a limited space) to shine. The musicians, under the direction of Alan Williams, do a great job with the score, and don’t overpower the voices. There are plenty of comic moments for the minor characters, and Yazdan Qafouri as Eva’s lovestruck young scientist suitor, plays his part with a sweet vulnerability that is sure to win fans. The costume and set design (Anna Kelsey) miss what few opportunities there are to be spectacular, but this is a musical staged on a small stage—not ideal for a show that involves the majesty of celestial phenomena and the pyrotechnics of exploding refineries.

This version of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice really belongs on a West End stage. With enough spectacle, big chorus numbers and powerful performances, this show could be a contender. But the plot needs work. Bring back Goethe’s tough mindedness. It won’t hurt The Sorcerer’s Apprentice a bit, and it would be great to get away from the sentimentality of the Disney adaptation. Why not think Wicked meets—just about any musical with complex, morally conflicted leading characters? In a world hurtling towards climate catastrophe and battling toxic capitalism, this could be a winner.

 

Reviewed by Dominica Plummer

Photography by Geraint Lewis

 


The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Online via stream.theatre

 

Recently reviewed by Dominica:
Bird | ★★ | Cockpit Theatre | September 2020
Bread And Circuses | ★★½ | Online | September 2020
Minutes To Midnight | ★★★★ | Online | September 2020
Persephone’s Dream | ★★★ | Online | September 2020
The Trilobite | ★★★★ | Online | September 2020
Paradise Lost | ★★★★ | Cockpit Theatre | September 2020
The Legend of Moby Dick Whittington | ★★★★★ | Online | November 2020
Potted Panto | ★★★ | Garrick Theatre | December 2020
Magnetic North | ★★★★ | Online | December 2020
Public Domain | ★★★★ | Online | January 2021

 

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