boys top

Ibraheem Hussain as Mohsen and Kashif Ghole as Kash with swimming on the timetable.

Brown Boys Swim

Birmingham Rep, Door


The is not so much a coming of age as jumping in at the deep end sort of drama as two young Asian lads make their tentative way through life in what we suppose must be sixth form.

There is Kash, played in a professional debut by Kashif Ghole, not that you would know he was a first timer, I would say he took to it like a duck to water . . . but water and Kash . . . let’s just say it was a strained relationship.

His best mate is Mohsen, played by one of this summer’s LAMDA graduates, Ibraheem Hussain. Two young actors who bring the story to sparkling life with a just a couple of benches and a mobile pool edge, back wall, bar counter block for company.

Kash has just returned from a pilgrimage to Mecca and has returned to find an 18th birthday pool party has been organised by Jess, a girl at school . . . and he and Mohsen have not been invited.

It has to be an oversight, he wasn’t asked simply because he was not there to ask, that is the only explanation, at least in the world of Kash. After all Kash is never wrong, has self assurance to burn, is the most liked guy and biggest babe magnet around.

All the female teachers fancy him and have missed him terribly in the three weeks he has been away and he will be the star of the pool party when the girl finds out he is back.

At least that is Kash’s, on the face of it, rather egotistical view of the world he, and perhaps it is safe to say, only he, inhabits. Mohsen gently explains that far from pining for him, the female teachers were much more annoyed that he was missing.

pool edge

Pool position no 1: cling on to the pool edge at the deep end . . .

The play is set in Oxford, and Mohsen is desperate of going to university in his home town, while Kash wants a 12 moth course in Manchester with the promise of a job at the end of it. Acadmia is not for him. All the boastful bravado, we are starting to suspect, is a shield against an inner uncertainty, a sense of inadequacy. 

We could call it adolescence, but for the likes of Kash and Mohsen it is more than that, they are south Asian – brown boys.

Writer Karim Khan has done a fine job of highlighting both the universal feelings of the teenage years, the confusion, the fears, hopes and need to find your own path – and be accepted and liked of course, and the life faced by the brown boys of the title.

There is no preaching, no for or against, no comment, just tell it like it is in passing, with no hoo-ha or finger pointing.

Mohsen discovers they have not been invited because they cannot swim. His attitude is so what, carry on with life, while Kash doesn’t know the meaning of defeat. He tells Jess they can swim, gets the invite, and then dragoons Mohsen – a non-swimmer – to teach him how to swim.

The visit to the local baths is the first inkling we get of a life most of us never have to face, when they find they are being stared at.

South Asian countries have yet to trouble the scorers in swimming in the Olympics, it is not a popular pastime. It is estimated that in India, for example, only about 0.5 per cent can swim, so to find a couple of South Asians at the local pool was, if nothing else, unusual – but we got the feeling there was resentment as much as surprise in the stares.

Then we had the lads laughing and joking in a shop in the mall, with Kash wanting to buy Speedos. We have to ask would they have been held and searched as shoplifters had they been white?

not guilty

Guilt by . . . well, appearance perhaps . . .

Khan touches on Islam and family, and the taboo of drink – something Kash wants to try with the party coming up, he doesn’t want to look like an outsider among his peers.

But they are outsiders, Mohsen overhears a conversation in the library after someone asks, you suspect with no enthusiasm, why the pair have been invited. The whispered response is that they have been invited because they are bringing the drugs.

With no proof not even the vaguest of suspicions, the lads have been pigeonholed as drug dealers, presumable on some misguided basis that they all are, aren’t they.

Again, no great fuss, no jump up and down, it happened and we move on – another seed has been sown to grow into thoughts for the audience to look at later.

It is a clever, ploy. As a father of two boys, now long grown up, I can recognise some of the laughs, arguments, banter, fears and worries of late teenagers, but my lads didn’t have to cope with racism, tolerance or indeed the religious upbringing of Kash and Mohsen.

And as this is a tale about their world, why should the script make concessions to ours. Urdu words are thrown in here and there, unfamiliar phrases used occasionally. We are being invited to see the world through their eyes, try to see things from a different angle as Albin Mougeotte might tell us.

As we said, swimming is not a South Asian thing and the great I am Kash, is desperate to go to the party, even the drug dealer taunt didn’t change that. It has become an obsession so much so he went to the local baths for extra practice, but people staring and laughing at him floundering in the water was not his style, so he tries to perfect his swimming, after the swimmers, paddlers and picnickers have left, alone in the deserted river, with night falling

A disproportionate number of black and South Asian children and young adults die from drowning in the UK, which has nothing to do with colour and everything to do with culture.

The two friends are like brothers by the end and we all feel Mohsen’s loss and pain.

The pair give us a wonderful performance with almost balletic scene shifting (movement director Sita Thomas) on James Button’s clever, minimalist set with its traditional swimming pool tiles. Roshan Gunga’s music and James Bailey’s spot on lighting adds greatly to the atmosphere and directed by John Hoggarth, the boys will be trying to keep heads above water at the deep end to 04-11-23

Roger Clarke


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