How Not to Drown

Grand Theatre, Blackpool – until 17 March 2023

Reviewed by Debra Skelton


How Not to Drown was a different kind of theatre experience for me especially in the way ThickSkin Theatre portrayed a human story through multi-disciplined formats. The 90 minute production that has been adapted and dramatized by Nicola McCartney and innovatively directed by Neil Bettles certainly delivers a painful yet uplifting story that should not be missed.

Dritan Kastrati is a nine year old boy when he witnesses the destructive carnage of the Kosovan war with guns, dead bodies, and mass graves all around him. As a desperate act, his father decides to pay for his sons to be smuggled over to Britain starting with his eldest son Alfred and then Dritan who is aged eleven by this time.

He makes the journey all alone in the back of vans, trains and on boats arriving finally as a refugee in Britain and into their care system where he is regarded with suspicions eyes. Dritan is initially reunited with Alfred but is split from him due to suspicion of being involved in criminal activity and he has to contend alone once again with the revolving doors of foster care.

This story was first performed at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh in 2019 produced with Tron Theatre and Lawrence Batley Theatre and developed with support from the University of Edinburgh.

This is a fast paced drama performed by Dritan Kastrati himself alongside four other actors (Ajjaz Awad, Esme Bayley, Daniel Cahill, and Samuel Reuben) each of whom play Kastrati at some point in his journey alongside other characters such as mafia bosses, family members and foster families. The acting is superb which helped to draw out different elements of Dritan’s personality, most notably for me is his defiant ”formal complaint” that he is being ripped off having “paid all inclusive” for the journey.

The production needs special thanks to Becky Minto for the set design which included a raised revolving platform that looked like a raft, multipurpose props (steel barriers also being used as beds and doors) which were used effectively in transporting the audience across many hundreds of miles of Dritan’s journey. Neil Bettles & Jonnie Riordan for choreography, Zoe Spurr for Lighting and Alexandra

Fay Braithwaite for Sound design which punctuated key moments as well as creating a subtle atmosphere of menace and a reminder that an eleven year old boy is constantly asking himself “are these people going to feed me, beat me or rape me?”