Brighton Festival 2019
With their small inheritance stitched into their clothes, two children set off on an epic journey across Europe – orphaned refugee brothers on a desperate odyssey to freedom and safety.
Flight is part theatre show, part installation and like nothing you have ever seen. It takes as its subject the all too familiar story of child refugees and brings it to life – personalising and humanising these children and making them so much more than just statistics or tragic bodies washed up on a Greek beach.
With no live actors, audience members are led into the darkness one by one and given a seat in a little booth, in front of a giant drum that is slowly turning. Headphones play music and a white light dazzles you, until suddenly the sounds of a street in a busy city, and the yelling of boys’ voices fills your ears. A small box lights up, and we see tiny, intricately crafted models that illustrate the story we are hearing in our ears.
The models light up briefly to show our brave protagonists walking across the Afghan desert, hiding in the back of a lorry, risking their lives in a dingy across the Med. The images are static, but the frequency with which our view changes makes for dynamic and compelling viewing. It is just as captivating as if we were watching a film, but the 3D models make it far more beautiful and enthralling.
Mark Melville’s marvellously crafted soundtrack is just as important as the models for conveying the story, and the binaural effects in the headphones make the sounds of lorries, ferries and traffic startlingly real.
Flight does not merely tell the story of the journey of these young boys, Aryan and Kabir, there are clever flashbacks/dream sequences, which are illustrated using etched glass images that flicker across our view. We are never told explicitly the reason the boys have left Afghanistan alone to travel to London, but the heartbreak and loss they have encountered is clear from their anguished dreams.
Birds are used as a metaphor throughout the piece, both as symbols of freedom and of oppression. Kabir dreams of escape with birds freewheeling in the sky above him, yet their path is cruelly blocked by the French Police. These gendarmes are depicted, to great effect, as nasty looking seagulls, their crazed cawing representing the boys’ inability to understand French or what was happening to them.
Flight is an emotional and unafraid piece of drama, based on a book by journalist Caroline Brothers. Whilst the brothers are fictional, their experiences are based wholly on interviews done with young refugees, and highlight just how vulnerable and open to exploitation of the worst kind these unaccompanied minors are.
I really can’t recommend this show highly enough. It is very unusual, stunningly beautiful and powerfully emotive. Not to mention technically extraordinary. The skill of the production team in making the soundtrack and visuals sync up for every audience member shouldn’t be underestimated.
Being a hardened and sometimes cynical theatre critic, it is not often I see a show that successfully challenges and innovates with the theatrical form, but Vox Motus manages to do this in spades. Go and see it, there should still be tickets as it’s on all day every day until the 22nd May.