Review: How Not To Drown at the Traverse

The raft-like stage tilts at a perilous angle towards the audience. It symbolises the insecure journey of Dritan Kastrati, not just on his childhood escape from a Kosovo under civil war but also his arrival in the UK as an 11-year-old with no English and nowhere to live – he isn’t even permitted to stay with his own big brother. 

This is a true story and that’s Kastrati in the flesh, perched on Becky Minto’s set of floating wooden planks. He’s now an adult and able to tell his story of survival against the odds. He’s joined by four more actors who take turns at playing him in Neil Bettles’ physically dynamic production. Every so often one of them leans deep over the audience as if the whole show is ready to tumble down before us. 

Written by Kastrati with playwright Nicola McCartney, the play is, in our era of mass migrations, a sadly familiar tale. What lends it further poignancy is the light-touch description of his subsequent life moving between foster parents, people who, however open-hearted, can never be a substitute for the security of the real family Kastrati has left behind. Neither can he have the happy-ending reunion he dreams of, because in his years away, the definition of home has changed. He no longer recognises the places and people he has longed for – nor they him. 

The script takes a straight-forward, A-to-B route through this real-life odyssey, occasionally over-explicit but generally moving swiftly across Kastrati’s life, but it’s the production that gives it a striking visual life. Lit from above and below by Zoe Spurr, creating wild seascapes and claustrophobic living rooms, the actors use the simplest of means to dash fluidly through the story. The staging is as turbulent and as knife-edge as Kastrati’s life itself.

How Not To Drown, Traverse, 30 Jul – 25 Aug (not 12, 19), times vary

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