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‘The Boy with Two Hearts’ review

  • Theatre, Drama
  • 3 out of 5 stars
The Boy with Two Hearts, National Theatre, 2022
Photo by Jorge Lizalde
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Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Slick, moving adaptation of Afghan refugees Hamed and Hessam Amiri’s hit book

It's horrifying that the contours of a refugee’s route to the UK (the cramped car boots, the sinister people smugglers, the Calais camps) should feel familiar, but still… they are. Somehow, as a society, we've allowed a horrifically dangerous escape route to become normalised, the only option.

Long before the Calais Jungle was forcibly dismantled, two brothers (Hamed and Hessam Amiri) made their dangerous escape from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. They tell their family's story in their book ‘The Boy With Two Hearts’. Amit Sharma’s production, first staged at Wales Millennium Centre, is a lucid, accessible retelling of this narrative.

The emphasis here is on the escape: the months holed up in a freezing Moscow apartment, the hours hiding in ditches by the motorway or among the cargo of a stifling lorry. Sharma stages these cramped spaces effectively, squeezing his cast into small apertures in the stage to emphasise their physical discomfort, while Hayley Grindle’s design uses slightly hackneyed typographic art to spell out the details of this journey.

There are moments of levity along the way, as this carefully-sketched family bickers about football or fantasises about their mum's signature lamb dish. Their pleasures and pains are beautifully evoked by Afghan singer, Elaha Soroor, who co-composed the music with Tic Ashfield: her body and voice contort in agony as the oldest son, Hussein, suffers attacks of heart trouble.

These heart troubles are at the centre of the play's final scenes. Hussein undergoes a hugely dangerous operation to try and save his life: like the escape from Afghanistan, the risk is worth the reward.

Still, what we're seeing isn't a carefully crafted metaphor, it's real people's lives. And perhaps that's why this production ends in a slightly sentimentalised place, with heartfelt words of gratitude sent out to the audience (which hasn't done much to earn them). It's the most palatable possible narrative of the refugee experience, largely uncomplicated by feelings of homesickness, regret, or political anger.

This production is one that’s accessible in many senses – through its integrated subtitles, through its simple, easy-to-understand approach. But in its determination to tell a neatly rounded story, it neglects other, less palatable, less familiar truths.

Written by
Alice Saville

Details

Address:
Price:
£20-£65. Runs 2hr 10min
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