How Not To Drown @ Traverse Theatre

How Not To Drown follows a 11-year-old's journey from the UK with people smugglers, but this hard-hitting show falls short

Review by Dominic Corr | 06 Aug 2019
  • How Not To Drown @ Traverse Theatre

For those out there who claim to have an understanding of the ‘immigration crisis’, How Not to Drown aims to be a reality check, but unfortunately falls short. The narrative concerns eleven-year-old Dritan Kastrati, a Kosovan-Albanian refugee put in the hands of smugglers and taken out of the country and across Europe to London. What first appears to be a piece on the struggles of immigration becomes a diluted version of this pertinent topic, opting instead for a look at the culture-shock which comes with asylum.

Kept in suspense, the opening half of the production sees Dritan making the journey across the waves, the land and the difficulties he faces. With a panache for reading people, Dritan can smell the rats in the water – those who would seek to take advantage of him for his money, or potentially worse. The staging, which comprises a series of planks replicating a raft, injects physical energy into the production, causing sharp intakes of breath as it occasionally plays with gravity.

Kistrati and Nicola McCartney’s play focuses on the adaption to a new life in a way audiences will not necessarily consider. Sure, there’s a language barrier, but the racism, bullying, food and the foster system takes a toll. Attention wains towards the productions centre, as the direction seems unsure of where Kastrati’s story will end. Portions of the story which need time to develop are rushed, stretching segments that have already said their piece. 

In its most acute moment of realisation, upon a painful revelation about family and identity, Ditan asks, “Where is my home?” How Not to Drown opens the eyes of an audience who are unable to have a direct insight into the trials of asylum. Inventive in its simple design, the narrative draws focus from the journey itself to the challenging adaptations refugees are forced to make.

How Not to Drown, Traverse Theatre, until 25 Aug, various times, £22-16.50