“No home, no money, no right to exist”
By Sophie Revell
These are the words that rang through me long after watching The Boy with Two Hearts at the Wales Millenium Centre on the 5th October 2021. If you are like me and have been moved and disturbed by the recent conflicts in Afghanistan, you will understand that I was apprehensive to watch a play about the Taliban.
However, this performance transcended all prior expectations.
The Boy with Two Hearts follows the true story of the Amiri family, who survive a perilous journey to the UK to escape the Taliban over twenty years ago. Fariba (Gehane Strehler), the mother of three young boys, must leave her home in Herat, Afghanistan after criticising the Taliban’s treatment of Afghan women. All the while, eldest son Hussein (Ahmed Sakai) is fighting a potentially life threatening heart condition. This premise creates a lot of tension from the get go, but what made me root for the characters the most was the deeply humanising portrayal by the cast.
The media’s depiction of refugees makes them seem like voiceless pawns in a political game that, although most of us don’t understand the struggle of fleeing a war torn country, we all have assumptions and opinions about.
The Boy with Two Hearts transforms these preconceived ideas and made me laugh at moments that otherwise I would have found quite serious, whether that was at the childish quips between the brothers whilst playing football at a refugee camp or at Taliban themed puns. The humour reminded me of the boys that I care about, full of life and positivity – and how the only difference between them and the Amiri boys is the lottery of life.
The lottery of life is a prevalent theme throughout – how I and those in the audience were lucky to be born in a time of relative peace in our country; that I as a woman have been afforded rights and privileges that those in Afghanistan have not. A particularly hooking monologue by one of the younger brothers (portrayed by Shamail Ali and Farshid Rokey) explores how so much of life is out of our control, and a single moment – in this instance, stopping to tie your shoelaces – can transform your fate forever. The Boy with Two Hearts succeeds in making the audience grateful for what they have and have experienced in comparison to what the Amiri family have faced without portraying them as weak and pitiful.
This is also translated through inventive staging. The show incorporates live and recorded music, written by Mohammad Sharif Saiidi and Afif Bakhtari and hauntingly performed by singer Elaha Soroor. Captions are also projected onto the set in English. The use of multi-rolling was particularly effective at creating a relationship between actor and audience. If the set and cast had been larger, it would have lost the intimacy and closeness that allowed the audience to feel as if they really knew the characters they were watching and overall made us root for their happy ending.
Head of Productions Emma Evans called The Boy With Two Hearts “above everything else… a wonderful story of hope…” This was clear, refusing to end on a negative note and focusing on how the Amiri family healed and spread hope after the tragedies in the show.
The shows writers – the real life Hamed and Hessam Amiri – bring themes of hope and kindness offstage too, championing two Welsh charities Oasis Cardiff and Daring to Dream which work to provide warm welcomes to refugees and asylum seekers and support the emotional health of adult patients in hospital clinics across Wales.
The Boy With Two Hearts will be running at the Wales Millennium Centre until 23rd of October 2021.