Personally, it takes a lot for me to be stunned into silence generally especially by a piece of theatre. There is nothing I love more, when within a theatre, than a pre, interval or post-show chat and meeting new people sat around me. My Aunty (who I attend the majority of the shows with) has in fact made a name for herself within the Millennium for chatting to everyone she encounters (usually with me trailing behind) during any break in the show so you can get some sense of how powerful this Wales Millennium Centre commissioned the production of “The Boy with Two Hearts” must have been for every person to be stood applauding at the end of the show (with the majority shedding a tear or two) and for there to be complete and utter silence for a good few minutes during both the interval and end of the show!
Usually, with plays/musicals, the bars and communal spaces in the Centre are filled with a buzz during the interval/at the end of the show, but this time there was a hush where people seemed to be tentatively whispering rather than the loud chatting that usually occurs. This was an emotional night for me before the show even started. The moment that I place my hands on the iconic doors the Wales Millennium Centre, after not being allowed in for almost two years, I was instantly filled with immense happiness as before the lockdowns I would be there two or three times a week but that was quickly stopped with the coronavirus restrictions were announced! Have a big theatre such as the Millennium producing new pieces of theatre truly marks not only the easing of restrictions but also the return of live theatre. However, this emotional revelation did not help or hinder the production I was there to see as I personally believe that I could be before in a field and still have the same emotional impact it possessed!
For the opening moments of this show, it was clear that it is a passion project based on a personal experience. The story is based on its writer Hamad’s own personal experience of fleeing Afghanistan and finding a new home in Cardiff. Throughout the show, we have moments of education regarding religious practises, honest/real portrayals of the journey and moments of comedy which all combine to show an authentic story of finding a refugee. This is something about writing from personal experience that makes storytelling even more powerful! We often hear stories of refugees and their journeys on the news, radio, television etc but we naturally put up a distance between us and ‘those’ people. For this show to show (as it is based on a true story from Cardiff) that it’s not an issue for different people or places, but instead is happening on our doorsteps it truly brings the message home. The issue of seeking refugees does not just apply to faraway lands but affects our friends, neighbours etc.
The show follows the Amari family who are forced to leave Afghanistan after the matriarch of the family (played by the incredibly talented Géhane Strehler) delivers a very controversial speech about the treatment of women in Taliban run countries. (If they had not amped up the emotion enough, before entering the theatre we were made aware that the Amari family who the story is based on where sat in the audience and the writer who is also apart of the same family supposedly watches every single performance.) This speech is controversial for two reasons, firstly it is against the law for women to deliver speeches in Afghanistan but also it is her essentially standing up to the Taliban government. What is very clever about the performance of the speech is that the actual audience are referred to as the audience of the speech (with direct eye contact, Gestures etc) with Géhane seeming to passionately deliver every single word of the speech to a point where I believe that even she felt moved by its words. This idea of carefully and cleverly breaking the fourth wall happens numerous times throughout the show with rotating narrators, being ‘brought in’ as fourth-year medical students and being visitors to a market. The inclusion of the audience only helps the impact of the show as the viewers feel as if they are also in the centre of the story! The rest of the play documents their dangerous and extremely difficult journey to the UK with all the high points and low points being shown.
I thought that the set designed by Hayley Grindle, used for this production featured some of the most ingenious set designs I have seen in a long time. The show opening with phenomenal Eloha Soroor, who performed the majority of the atmospheric music throughout in Farsi with subtitles being showed across a multi-storey structure on the stage. Eloha’s character within the play also acts as an sort of angel of death who is there for the majority of the close calls throughout the show. All of her appearances in the show are purposeful and her attention is always on the characters that she could be collecting soon. I think that all of the actors in this show (including Shamail Ali, Dana Haqjoo, Farshid Rokey and Ahmad Sakhi) all deserve incredible praise for bringing this story to life in a very accessible and real way! Also, the performers swap roles throughout the show which often means completely different accents, demeanours and physicality with all performances being very believable! Being able to switch literally in front of the audience’s eyes and then to be able to easily follow the story and characters takes a lot of skill/talent so every performer deserves the highest of praise. The levels also had screens that would demonstrate the change of location, weather etc with carefully selected animated images. One particular moment stands out for me where the set is transformed into a defibrillator and the screen displayed the word shock after loading up with blue light which I thought was a very clever way to show what was going on. These panels and screen also move which comes in handy during points in the show were the character were crammed into the back of cars , lorry’s etc which looked absolutely amazing and the choreography of getting into these spaces being amazing to watch.
Another misconception that this show addresses is the idea that refugees simply jump on a boat to sail to the UK and simply leave because they just want to live somewhere else. It is so much more than just sailing away to find a new home and any person who takes this treacherous journey to possible receive a better life for themselves or their children deserve at the bare minimum your respect! The show is also an almost love letter to the NHS as one of the main motivators for the Amari family coming to the UK is due to our incredible health service.
Overall this is an extremely poignant and powerful play that keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout! It highlights the dangerous journey that many refugees which clearly surprises many people who watch it. I have never seen a piece of theatre move as many people at once like “The Boy with Two Hearts” did and I personally believe that everyone needs to see this show at some point. It should be shown to school learners above key stage 5 and the entire adult population as everyone will learn something and be moved by its emotional power! This is absolutely a 5 out of 5 show!
You can find out more about the production and book tickets here