Review: The Boy With Two Hearts

by Lynn on October 16, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Dorfman Theatre, National Theatre, London, England and the Wales Millennium Centre.

Written by Hamed and Hessam Amiri

Adapted for the stage by Phil Porter

Directed by Amit Sharma

Set and costumes by Hayley Grindle

Lighting by Amy Mae

Sound and co-composer, Tic Ashfield

Songwriter and co-composer, Elaha Soroor

Video designer, Hayley Egan

Cast: Shamail Ali

Houda Echouafni

Dana Haquoo

Farshid Rokey

Ahmad Sakhi

Elaha Soroor (singer)


The play opens in Afghanistan. Fariba (Houda Echouafni) is fed up with the way women are treated by the ruling Taliban so she decides to make a speech in the market place. She is nervous but her supportive family: husband Mohammed (Dana Haqjoo) and three sons, Hamed (Farshid Rokey), Hussein (Ahmad Sakhi) and Hessam  (Shamail Ali) all support her. She makes the speech. People applaud. Then that night the Taliban come banging on their door. They want Fariba. It’s not for a cup of tea.

The family has to leave immediately and thus begins a journey of 18 months of running, hiding, paying handlers to take them to safety through many countries, in many trucks, the trunks of cars etc.  being cheated, frightened, terrified, lost, and all the while together. Fiercely together.

There is a further problem. At 14-years-old, Hussein (the oldest child) has a serious heart problem. It’s hoped the family will finally find its way to England for safe haven and medical help. Hussein is the one who keeps bolstering the spirits of his younger brothers.

The title of the book, written by two of the brothers, Hamed and Hessam Amiri, describes first Hussein’s damaged heart and his other heart, the spiritual one, the one that beats strong and keeps being hopeful, tenacious and full of resolve. Hussein, (a lovely, sensitive performance by Ahmad Sakhi) always calmly urges his brothers on. He tries to allay his parents’ fears about his health. He has episodes in which his can’t breathe and nearly passes out.

When they finally find sanctuary in England Hussein is given medical treatment including a pacemaker. It lasts for seven years. He goes to university and graduates with a degree in management studies. The family is together and thriving. And then his heart fails. Devastating.

At the end of that play is the incredible resolve of that family. Through all the hardship they endured, they give thanks for the people who helped them, even one handler who changed from almost cheating them, to promising to help them and he came through. Astonishing. To go through that hell of 18 months and still be optimistic, hopeful, have feelings of thankfulness is a lesson to us all.

Elaha Soroor is a constant presence in the production. She sings various songs whose translations are projected on the walls of the theatre. They are of resolve, love, nature and poetic musings. She stands off from the action in a crème-coloured costume of a loose-fitting jacket and pants. The songs provide tone and an atmosphere.

Amit Sharma’s direction is very movement based with the group of five actors moving almost in balletic movements as they scurry across the stage suggesting flight, hiding, etc. In one instance the family are crouched in the back of a truck in a small space surrounded by boxes (this is all suggested). Dialogue is projected on a back wall that says the air is compressed in that space. A black screen is lowered and the family lays flat on their fronts. Then the screen gets lower and lower and the family lay flatter, gasping for breath. Harrowing.

When Hussein has his attacks, a light is focused on him as Ahmad Sakhi writhes and twitches, gulping air that isn’t there until he collapses. Often animated projections are flashed on the back wall, such as a truck rocking over rough terrain, suggesting the difficulty of travel.

Often one of the actors playing a son does a movement away from the group, a jacket is put on him, and he turns into another character—a threatening guard, a handler etc. It’s done with efficiency and an elegant dance-like movement. Just as easily, the jacket is taken off the actor and he reverts to the son again.

Moving story and production.

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