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‘The Boy with the Two Hearts’ – stirring, emotional family drama about refugees (review)

‘The Boy with the Two Hearts’ – stirring, emotional  family drama about refugees (review)

Now in its last few performances, a story about a family who flee their home in Afghanistan for refuge in Britain…

THIS is a lovely story, simply and effectively told.

Adapted from a best-selling book by Hamed Amiri (with the same title) about a family’s real experiences of seeking sanctuary in Britain, it is moving and joyous – a strange word to use, perhaps, but while there is sadness and tragedy in this, what comes out of it all, is a sense of hope and mission that we should all have about, life.

It starts in Afghanistan with an ordinary family of five – mum, dad and three boys and ends up in Cardiff.

On the surface, it’s a tale of survival, hope and optimism and perhaps similar to other stirring tales of people making a new life for themselves after surviving the trauma of fleeing their home and seeking refuge somewhere else.

The real beauty of this, is that it very effectively ‘humanises’ the experience of what being a refugee is really about.

It all starts with mum Fariba (Houda Echouafni) making a speech against the Taliban who are in power.

Despite having three sons, she feels the injustices meted out to young girls and women, in general, very keenly, in a violently patriarchal society – power comes through the end of a gun after all, in a Taliban run country. It is 2000 and they’re not going anywhere.

There are dangers of speaking out – her family are hugely supportive, and wonder whether it is a good thing to do, but Fariba feels compelled to articulate her frustration – how long can this misery continue? How long can girls and women be ordered to live like slaves? (Her description).

Fariba ((Houda Echouafni), Mohammed (Dana Haqjoo), Hamed (Farshid Rokey), Hussain (Ahmed Sakhi), Hessam (Shemail Ali) pic: © Jorge Lizadle (Studio Cano)

Her soap box style speech in the market place is well received – others think the same way but are frightened to call the rulers out for their misogyny and tyranny.

Perhaps, a little predictably word gets out the Taliban are looking for Fariba.

The family decide they must get away if they are to have any future – and who wouldn’t think like this – especially those with ambitions and dreams.

The three boys Hussain (Ahmad Sakhi), Hamed (Farshid Rokey) and Hessam (Shamail Ali) dream of becoming Hollywood stars – but quickly focus on their more ‘realistic’ ambition of playing for Manchester United FC – they’re after all several players of colour, not just at United, but spread across the Premier League.

That Hussain has a medical issue lies at the heart of this play and gives the drama added weight and poignancy. Maybe some stories are just destined to be written.

Singer – Elaha Soroor

We follow the family from Herat, where they live in Afghanistan, to Moscow through Western Europe and onto Calais and the famous camp there in the early 2000s – Sangatte, referred to by some as ‘The Jungle’.

There is no simple way into the UK and all the while they have had to dodge the authorities, gangsters and others who simply want either to send them back to Afghanistan, or exploit them financially.

With money from family members back home, they survive but it is a perilous existence and hugely traumatic for the young boys – but somehow they keep going.

The mournful vocals of singer Elaha Soroor add to the melancholy and sadness the family feel at difficult points in the journey.

This is well performed and the family are hugely endearing. The production is well done and the story remains accessible and brisk throughout.

Director Amit Sharma deserves credit for keeping things simple and infusing a charming warmth to all the characters – even those who initially exploit the Amiris’ difficult plight.
ACV rating: **** (out of five)

(Sailesh Ram)


‘The Boy with Two Hearts’ by Hamed and Hessam Amiri, performances (October 1) till Saturday (November 12), Dorfman Theatre, National Theatre, Upper Ground, London SE1 9PX.

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture