How Not To Drown

Mar 31 2023 | By More

★★★★☆   Relentless

Traverse: Wed 29 Mar – Sat 1 Apr 2023
Review by Suzanne O’Brien

How Not To Drown is a moving true story of a young boy’s perilous journey from Kosovo to England, co-written and performed by the man himself. Which, in this ThickSkin and Traverse Theatre Company production, makes for a vital piece of theatre.

Written by Nicola McCartney with Dritan Kastrati the production incorporates storytelling and physical theatre as it conveys, with authenticity, the brutal and relentless experience of Kastrati as he travelled across Western Europe to Calais in the hands of strangers and was forced into the British care system.

Dritan Kastrati and the cast of How Not To Drown. Pic: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

Kastrati occasionally inserts himself into the action but, for the most part, he is an observer. The strong ensemble cast of Esme Bayley, Daniel Cahill, Ajjaz Awad and Sam Reuben, take on different roles from the younger version of Kastrati, to his friends, family and numerous foster families.

Watching Kastrati watch his younger self, played with a cheeky youthfulness by Awad and Reuben, it is an incredibly impactful experience and it is nigh-on impossible not to feel moved.


While exposing his experience of the negative aspects of the care system, which came largely as a result of his status as a refugee, the play also conveys the racist attitudes which exist in our society. The language barrier and cultural differences are highlighted through the use of numerous translators and unintelligible English. This works to emphasize his isolation in a system which is created to combat just that.

Directed and choreographed by Neil Bettles and choreographer Jonnie Riordan, the scenes seamlessly incorporate slick movements that drive the piece and build its tension. This is aided by the ease and fluidity of the cast’s performances.

Ajjaz Awad and the cast of How Not To Drown. Pic: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

All the action takes place on top of a large wooden platform that represents a raft. Cleverly designed by Becky Minto, the unique platform is positioned at an angle and moves around at various points which creates an uneasiness as the actors literally perform on edge.

Darkness and the ominous sound of crashing waves provoke an unsettling feeling from the very start. Indeed the sound, composed and designed by Alexandra Faye Braithwaite, and lighting, by Zoe Spurr, provide an intense undercurrent throughout, which prevents the audience from relaxing.


In light of the UK government’s new and controversial immigration plan, the subject matter of the piece will enlighten, heavily impact and be a real eye-opener for many. In addition, those who may have sympathised before will get a real insight into one person’s own experiences.

How Not To Drown humanises those living in fear and those who are just desperate for basic human rights, freedom, love and support.

Running Time (1 hour 35 minutes with no interval)
Traverse, 10 Cambridge Street, EH1 2ED.
Wed 29 Mar – Sat 1 Apr 2023
Evening: 7.30pm, Sat mat: 2.30pm.  (Traverse 1)
Tickets and details: Book here.

Dritan Kastrati (centre) with Sam Reuben, Ajjaz Awad, Esme Bayley and Daniel Cahill. Pic: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan


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