Written by Nicola McCartney and Dritan Kastrati
Directed by Neil Bettles
A ThickSkin and Traverse Theatre Company production
How Not To Drown is the last scheduled production at Oldham Coliseum before the final curtain comes down on March 31st. It is fitting that this is a powerful hard hitting piece of drama that is socially relevant and thoughtfully made. It seems incredibly sad and frustrating that important work like this programmed in a long established theatre with a vibrant history should be subject to Arts Council decisions that close its doors for good.
This story is the lived experience of co-writer and actor Dritan Kastrati who was only eleven years old when his parents paid to have him trafficked out of Kosova in the aftermath of the war. Alone and at the mercy of people smugglers, he made the perilous journey to England in the hope of being reunited with his older brother Alfred. What follows is a chilling indictment of our care system as this vulnerable child is subjected to intimidating procedures, passed around foster homes and kept away from his own brother. He spent five years feeling like an interloper and a financial business arrangement for foster carers. His return to his family after five years is unsatisfying and frustrating as this young man is still displaced and at odds with his environment as his homeland is irrevocably changed and his mother tongue feels unfamiliar.
“I don’t know why my Dad let me go, especially when he knew how dangerous, how hard it was… I was too young, too weak to make this journey. I wouldn’t have sent me… He wouldn’t have sent me unless there was a reason.”
ThickSkin use their trademark physicality to bring this story vividly alive. The five strong cast play multiple roles which powerfully reflects the confusion for the central character as faces and voices constantly change and shift precariously just like the raft on which they perform. The staging is bleak without any creature comforts…not even a lteddy bear or a life jacket; reflecting the harshness of the refugee experience of Ak47s, hard chairs and barricades. The whole production evokes the urgency and chaos of usurpments and resettlement where children are not allowed to be children and where sadly a hug isn’t safe. Watching the central character performing on stage it might be easy to assume that all is now well for Dritan Kastrati and he has finally found his place…I hope that is true and home for him is now more stable and content offstage as well as onstage.
Oldham Coliseum 23rd-25th March