“How Not To Drown” The real-life story of an Albanian youngster being smuggled to the UK

Source: The National

Dritan Kastrati, now in his late 20s, will perform in How Not To Drown, a humorous physical theatre piece telling how he made the journey at the age of 11.

The unaccompanied youngster was sent by parents desperate for him to find safety away from their home on the dangerous border between Kosova and Albania.

Via a network of smugglers, Kastrati travelled for four days hidden in lorries, trains and boats. One crossing held 45 people, 44 of whom made it across.

How Not To Drown, a co-production by the Traverse Theatre Company and award-winning company ThickSkin, sees Kastrati perform as part of a five-strong ensemble.

They play more than 30 parts: characters he met on the journey to the UK and others from five years as an unaccompanied child asylum seeker in the care system.

Director Neil Bettles and playwright Nicola McCartney, a co-writer with Kastrati, say the production tells the untold story of how such children are left without support to process what they’ve been through.

 Bettles and McCartney first met Kastrati on a training project for young men by theatremakers Frantic Assembly. Kastrati told his story in a writing workshop led by McCartney. With no expectation that his words would form the basis of a play, the pair worked on a series of recordings.

“It was just a way of getting it down at first,” says Kastrati, who in recent years has played Montano in Frantic’s hit show Othello, as well as starring in films by acclaimed Albanian director Fatmir Koci. “Slowly I began to realise the best way to share it with others was in a performance.

“The play is almost in two halves: the journey from Albania to here and the journey once I got here. That’s where the play shifts and you see this kid alone in a foreign country.”

Though Kastrati says he had a pleasant childhood, it was heavily impacted by conflict. He was taught how to use an AK47 at the age of six.

“I had been brought up, trained by my dad to be independent, to think for myself,” he says. “To me, the dangers of the journey to the UK was similar to what was happening at home. I was used to being around dangerous people.

“But to then have people tell me what to do, to sit down, to shut up, to do this, to do that, I found that soul-crushing. This was a thing I had no idea could happen and had no idea, no training, in how to deal with it.”

Accompanied by a soundtrack of music and indecipherable languages and Becky Minto’s shape-shifting set design, How Not To Drown’s non-linear narrative evokes the fragmentation of memory and a child’s sense of confusion.

By exploring identity and belonging, the piece will resonate with “all of us that feel a little lost and take extreme actions to find ourselves again,” says Bettles.

But Kastrati says he wants to highlight the positive aspects of his experiences. “It’s not a sad story – a lot of it is very funny,” he says. “This is my story but it could be anyone’s. Imagine there is a war happening in the UKnow, which direction would you run? It would be awful. But it’s happening everyday across the world. It happened to me.”

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