Wales Millennium Centre — until 23 Oct 2021
The Boy with Two Hearts is an adaption of the book by Hamed and Hessam Amiri adapted for the stage by Phil Porter. The book which was a Radio 4 book of the week, combines the account of the family’s journey from Afghanistan to the UK, and the experiences of refugees across Europe, with a touching love letter to the NHS.
There’s understandably a lot to fit into the stage version- we begin with the family in Afghanistan and end with them in their new life in Cardiff. In between, we experience the details of their escape from their home country, the various trials of trying to travel to Europe, life in refugee camps and a final perilous journey to the UK. After that the story shifts into a more focused look at Hamed’s illness, and the story of how despite a serious heart condition he succeeded in his new life- graduating from university enjoying a promising career before it was cut short by his illness. There’s a lot of material, and the second act feels a little overloaded- more time to sit with the Amiri family’s new life and to understand the strain of Hamed’s illness would have felt more balanced.
The production does a brilliant job of wrangling the detailed and extensive story in a theatrical manner, however. Amit Sharma finds a combination of visual storytelling along with the words adapted by Phil Porter. A particular strength is the movement elements of the piece, created by Jess Williams, which allow Sharma to weave elements of the story- journeys across fields, on days in the camps, even Hamed’s illness, through movement pieces with the small cast. Combined with evocative sound design by Tick Ashfield and evocative music performed by Elaha Soroor, whose song acts as additional narration and atmosphere to the story. Combined with this a slick use of video projection and integrated subtitles make the whole piece incredibly theatrical and allows the depth of the story to shine.
The small cast do incredible work communicating the story. With the four actors as the Amiri family, but also taking on other roles- everyone they encounter from the Taliban, through to Austrian government officials to hospital doctors. The three brothers Shamail Ali (Hessam) Ahmad Sakhi (Hussein) and Farshid Rokey (Hamed) have brilliant chemistry and add real humour to the piece with their natural feeling jokes and teasing, which only adds to the emotional weight of the ending. Dana Haqjoo as their father Mohammed offers gravitas along with impeccable ‘dad joke’ delivery. Géhane Strehler as Fariba delivers an emotive, memorable speech at the opening of the play while quietly carrying a lot of the emotional weight of the piece as a mother trying to keep her family safe.
This play addresses a lot of important themes – but most importantly it’s a story of hope. As a return to theatre for Wales Millennium Centre, this along with a commitment to telling the diverse stories of Wales that this signals, is a powerful return for the theatre.
Until 23rd October, Wales Millennium Centre.
Tickets from £15
Production images: Jorge Lizalde