Flight (Photo by Mihaila Bodlovic)

'Flight' at the Bridge Theatre is a soaring dramatic feat

Sam Marlowe
Sam Marlowe

This really is a small wonder. Created by Scottish company Vox Motus and first seen three years ago, it's the story of two orphaned brothers, Aryan and Kabir, who flee their home in Afghanistan to make a new life in London. It's based on the novel Hinterland, by Caroline Brothers - but this, co-presented here by the Bridge and the Barbican, is no ordinary literary adaptation. Instead, its perilous odyssey unfolds in exquisitely detailed model boxes, arranged as a revolving diorama. Each audience member, wearing binaural headphones through which we hear the characters voiced by actors, watches it alone in a booth. At a time of such agonising division, this unique method of delivery, coupled with the taut narrative, feels so intense that the effect is almost overwhelming.

And it is so, so beautiful. Oliver Emanuel's adaptation has the clarity and celerity of a 21st-century fairytale, and the production, directed by Jamie Harrison and Candice Edmunds, with designs by Harrison and lead model maker Rebecca Hamilton, has a hypnotic magic. It's a little like a 3D graphic novel. We see Aryan and Kabir from every angle, in extreme close-up and as tiny figures, bobbing in a fragile inflatable dinghy on stormy seas or trekking across mountainous landscapes. They become as real to us as flesh and blood - Kabir is the younger, his eyes wide below his woolly hat; protective big brother Aryan, a child forced by tragic circumstance to act as father, draws himself up, determined to be strong and adult. We become fiercely invested in their fate, yet at the same time they look poignantly distant and minute, their ordeal and their history of trauma barely registering against the world's vast implacability.

The intricacy of the execution is incredible, from the emotional shifts on miniature faces to the gleam of tarmac or corrugated iron. Image after image imprints itself on the memory: a motorway at night, car headlights streaming towards us; a lush orchard, the trees studded with bright fruit, where the boys are forced into slave labour and Kabir suffers horrifying abuse; the back of a lorry crammed with cardboard boxes and the shadowy, bundled figures of other refugees. And there are moments of nightmarish strangeness. One crow pecks the heart out of another. Armed French police in Nice, Paris, and Calais have the heads and wings of seagulls, their yellow eyes and beaks sharp and cruel, their language, which the brothers cannot understand, a cacophony of vicious cawing. And when the exhausted pair sleep - sometimes in a cell-like room arranged by traffickers, sometimes in a cardboard box outside an ornate doorway in a European city - they dream of flocks of birds, delicately painted in white on glass.

Nalini Chetty as Kabir, Farshid Rokey as Aryan, and Emun Elliott as the narrator all keep us rapt, their words tumbling out alongside a soundtrack by Mark Melville that travels musically across continents, its colours and rhythms subtly altering amid birdsong, crashing waves and urban clamour. We also hear the boys' thumping hearts, and their weary breathing as they repeat their dogged mantra, "keep walking, keep walking." This is theatrical storytelling with an extraordinary gentle force: it leaves you dizzy with its painstaking loveliness, and devastated by its simple power. Covid restructions may have intervened for now, but it will come round again. When it does, don't miss it.

Flight was scheduled until 16 Dec. Performances are planned to resume as soon as Tier 3 restrictions lift.

Photo credit: Mihaila Bodlovic

Originally published on

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