The Boy with Two Hearts Reviews at the National Theatre ★★★

Reviews are coming in for The Boy with Two Hearts at the National Theatre in London.

First seen at Wales Millennium Centre, Phil Porter’s adaptation of Hamed and Hessam Amiri’s novel directed by Amit Sharma. A powerful story of hope, courage, and humanity – and a heartfelt tribute to the NHS, the piece is based on the real-life experiences of a young family forced to flee the Taliban in Afghanistan, embarking on a race against time to save their young son who has a life threatening heart condition.

The cast features Shamail Ali, Dana Haqjoo, Farshid Rokey, Ahmad Sakhi and Géhane Strehler as well as the award- winning Afghan vocalist and composer, Elaha Soroor.

Set and costume design is by Hayley Grindle, lighting design is by Amy Mae, sound design and co-composer is Tic Ashfield, movement director is Jess Williams and Hayley Egan is video designer. Casting is by Sarah Hughes CDG and associate director is Sepy Baghaei.

The Boy with Two Hearts is at the Dorfman Theatre (National Theatre) until 12 November 2022.

More reviews to follow

Average Critics Rating

The Telegraph

"A heavy-handed production that treats its audience like children"

"Superfluous narration and blunt dialogue undermines what could have been a powerful refugee drama"

"a stirring adaptation of the 2020 book by Hamed Amiri (Hussein’s brother) chronicling their perilous journey and new life in Cardiff. There’s a sheer moral clarity to its directness, even if it is inescapably flawed theatre."

"I just wish Phil Porter’s adaptation trusted its audience more. Instead, we get heavy-handed narration and blunt dialogue, commentating on the family’s closeness or the dangers they face. They stop sounding like people, which, ironically, runs counter to a clear effort to humanise these (such a loaded term) refugees. "

Marianka Swain, The Telegraph
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The Times

"Simplistic, clunking agitprop"

"If it were a touring production in schools you’d happily cheer it on — after all, it’s a story of human perseverance that also happens to be a paean of praise to the NHS. But the storytelling is so simplistic you can’t help wondering what the piece is doing at the National."

"The best thing about the show is the raw energy of the three young actors — Farshid Rokey, Shamail Ali and Ahmad Sakhi — who take the roles of Hamed and his two brothers, Hessam and Hussein."

Clive Davis, The Times
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"Slick, moving adaptation of Afghan refugees Hamed and Hessam Amiri’s hit book"

"Long before the Calais Jungle was forcibly dismantled, two brothers (Hamed and Hessam Amiri) made their dangerous escape from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. They tell their family's story in their book ‘The Boy With Two Hearts’. Amit Sharma’s production, first staged at Wales Millennium Centre, is a lucid, accessible retelling of this narrative."

"This production is one that’s accessible in many senses – through its integrated subtitles, through its simple, easy-to-understand approach. But in its determination to tell a neatly rounded story, it neglects other, less palatable, less familiar truths."

Alice Saville, TimeOut
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The Stage

"Glows with one family’s love"

"How to convey the scale of this family’s ordeal on a stage? Director Amit Sharma makes satisfying use of Hayley Grindle’s two-tiered design, with curtains of shirts and jackets hanging high in the flies, suggesting the silent presence of the many refugees whose stories we don’t hear."

"The very linear nature of the story, given a blow-by-blow account – much of it in direct-address narration – mean there’s not always room for the individual characters to be explored. But the five actors, who also take turns to play minor roles, create a strong sense of a familial bond as the Amiris are buffeted by events, and winningly engage the audience in scenes such as the selling off of the contents of their Herat home. You believe entirely in Shamail Ali, Farshid Rokey and Ahmad Sakhi’s brotherly banter."

Siobhan Murphy, The Stage
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The Evening Standard

"Lively and warm refugee tale"

"A story of humanity, humour and goodwill"

"This account of one family’s escape from Afghanistan to the UK puts a much-needed human face on the refugee crisis. It’s a simple, almost child-friendly piece of storytelling, adapted by Phil Porter from the autobiographical book by Hamed and Hessam Amiri, who’d never written before."

"Hayley Grindle’s gantry set is lined with empty clothes, suggesting a legion of displaced persons and rearranges itself to suggest the confined car boots and container voids in which the family stow away. Subtitles and locations are projected on overhead panels."

Nick Curtis, The Evening Standard
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Daily Mail

"Heartfelt but saccharine"
"An oddly saccharine saga of an Afghan family fleeing the Taliban and seeking help for their eldest son's heart condition in the UK."

"Amit Sharma's cheerfully improvised production, which premiered at the Wales Millennium Centre last year, is warm and well meaning.

"The Amiri family have been through the wars — literally. I wish them well, but as entertainment, it's way too jolly for me."

Patrick Marmion, Daily Mail
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The Financial Times

"Amit Sharma’s production has a fable-like quality, with the cast of five narrating the tale and acting out all the parts in brief tableaux. It’s a limited format, but it’s vividly delivered and drolly designed, with settings evoked by illustrated subtitles. And while the story is peppered with details specific to this family — the favourite dinner, the sibling arguments about football — the rows of jackets hanging silently above the stage remind us of all the other untold, stories."

Sarah Hemming, The Financial Times
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The Observer

"An Afghan family seek more than sanctuary"

"In Phil Porter’s adaptation of the book by Hamed and Hessam Amiri, speech is sometimes superfluous: events are narrated direct to the audience (in the present tense) and partly acted out – as if in a series of tableaux – on a confined wooden box stage, with much running on the spot and slowed-down gestures."

"Amit Sharma’s production, threaded through with folk song, has, for all its terrors, an element of fable – and of a modest, truthful piece of theatre blinking in the semi-commercial glare."

Susannah Clapp, The Observer
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📷 Main photo: The Boy with Two Hearts, Photo by Jorge Lizalde

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