Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Deep Emotion in Deserved Reprise of Cardiff Production

At Wales Millennium Centre

The Boy with Two Hearts- Wales Millennium Centre , Dorfman Theatre, London , October 13, 2022
At Wales Millennium Centre by The Boy with Two Hearts- Wales Millennium Centre A GUIDE TO THE PRODUCTIONS BY WALES MILLENNIUM CENTRE CAN BE READ BELOW 10TH JANUARY 2006.

Theatre of Wales has been in London regularly in the last years: Ed Thomas, Tim Price, Gary Owen at the Royal Court: Dirty Protest and Gagglebaggle at the Soho: Music Theatre Wales at the Linbury. Theatr Clwyd and the National Theatre co-produced “Home, I'm Darling” and won an Olivier. Sophie Melville returns, blazingly, as Iphigenia this month at the Lyric in Hammersmith. The Sherman co-produces with the National Theatre Gary Owen’s “Romeo and Julie” next year. Jo Fong and George Orange take their Edinburgh hit, below 5th October, also to London in 2023.

“The Boy with Two Hearts” is a Wales Millennium Centre production rather than co-production. Graeme Farrow and team were fast to move, the swiftest in Cardiff, to present something that mattered for the era of theatre's return. The first production of “the Boy with Two Hearts”, below 10th October 2021, won acclaim.

From Rufus Norris of the National Theatre: “After last year's acclaimed production in Cardiff it only felt right that WMC's deeply moving production was shown to a wider audience...We're honoured to be welcoming the production to our Dorfman Theatre.” It fits the venue's programming, aligning itself with a production like “the Great Wave”. That play's plot was the state kidnappings by North Korea, its themes sacrifice and extreme endurance. The principal part of “the Boy with Two Hearts” is an eighteen month odyssey of flight from a death sentence issued in the time of the Taliban's first reign.

Fariba (Houba Echouafni) makes a speech in a school playground against the strictures placed on women. The words set the destiny of her life. “What choice did I have?” Much later she says “Not one since I made that speech. A life with no home, no possessions.” The first part of the tortuous journey is the exit from Herat, three days and nights for the family of five fused in a compartment of the boot of a car. The destination is a Moscow of ferocious cold.

The four thousand mile journey continues ever westward: a bewildered border crossing in a jungle of vegetation, a week on a farm with a diet of stale bread, the airport in Kyiv. New passports are given whereby their very names and nationality must be forfeit. In a camp in Austria the boys play football all day between meals and debate whether they will join Arsenal or Manchester United. They raise more money at work in a German pizza shop. They are repelled on the first attempt to enter the Netherlands, successful on the second. From there it is the trip to the limbo of the Calais settlement, a time of hopes raised and hopes dashed. Floodlights, barking dogs and the shouts of police interrupt the attempt to jump a train. The eventual arrival is an airless squeeze on a pile of containers.

The words in Phil Porter's adaptation of the book by Hamed and Hessam Amiri's book are economical. Director Amit Sharma uses physical theatre to convey the journey's hardships. The heart attacks and black-outs that Hussein suffers from his arrhythmic tachycardia are conveyed expressionistically with light and sound. Sound is crucial in the richness of the production's texture. The first words to be heard are “I am from the tribe of rain. On my own how far I've travelled with my tombstone.” Elaha Saroor, Iranian-born and formerly of Afghanistan, is a singer of renown, more commonly at the likes of WOMAD than on a theatre stage. Her singing, sometimes with words and sometimes keeningly wordless, are interfused with the action to huge emotional effect.

The theme is spoken early. “Not a single person in the world we can trust.” The response is “We have each other.” Father Mohammed (Dana Haqjoo) and sons Hussein (Ahmad Sakhi), Hamed (Farshid Rokey) and Hassam (Shamail Ali) reprise their roles from the first production. The result is a powerful sense of familial closeness. The cast of five, said a 2021 reviewer, “are so close-knit as the family that it feels shocking when one of them breaks off to play an antagonist.”

As an adaptation from a memoir it is not structured as drama. The enemy, the Taliban zealot weighed down by his machine gun, is swiftly left behind. The sequential action has a quality of relentless fable to it, a metaphor for the flight of all whose states have turned against them with intent to persecute or kill. The second part, the assimilation into a turn-of-the-millennium Wales, is a swiftly drawn sketch before turning to Hussein's illness.

But the politics of the play are not emphatic, human qualities to the fore over polemics. “The Boy with Two Hearts” would not have emanated from Scotland's theatre culture. Edward Said, literature's most consistent and clear-eyed author on exile, wrote of how exiles acquire “a plurality of vision gives rise to an awareness of simultaneous dimensions, an awareness that- to borrow a phrase from music- is contrapuntal.” The three boys in South Wales are there because law in their land has liquefied to become a vehicle for theocratic vengeance. Their journey has been a protracted sequence of deprivation and financial exploitation. But the dedication of medicine has given Hussein years of added life and all three sons have risen educationally from their roots. The play closes, surprisingly, with a paean to the circles of empathy that have enveloped them. “Tashakor, diolch, thank you” are the last words in Farsi, Welsh and English.

Each audience is an entity unto itself. In 2021 in Cardiff, when the production sold out, audiences at times were affected into a silence and then to a gradual crescendo of applause. This one in London rises to its feet in immediate collective acclaim.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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