Saturday, February 17, 2018

Flight - Putting A Human Face On A Hot Button Issue

Reviewed by Judd Hollander

The McKittrick Hotel, home to such artistic triumphs as Sleep No More and The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart, has another winner with their latest offering, Flight. Created by the Scottish theatre group Vox Motus, the production at the McKittrick marks the North American premiere for this immersive, intimate, and sadly, all-too topical tale.

Based on the novel "Hinterland" by Caroline Brothers, and brilliantly adapted by Oliver Emanuel, Flight is the story of two young boys from Afghanistan. Aryan (Farshid Rokey) and his younger brother Kabir (Nalini Chetty). Wanting to leave the turmoil and danger of their homeland far behind, the two have resolved to make their way to London and start a new life. They leaving home with only the clothes on their backs, a small amount of money, and a cell phone without a SIM card. Aryan and Kabir's route, one which will take close to two years, will see them travel through such countries as Iran, Turkey, Greece, Italy and France as they attempt to reach their goal.

Though Aryan and Kabir start out with big dreams, they are all too soon brought down to harsh reality. From a dangerous night water crossing by raft into Turkey, to living as virtual slaves when they take jobs as migrant workers, to a desperate ride in a refrigerated truck, each of the boys are eventually pushed to the limits of their endurance, and beyond. As Kabir notes to his brother after a horrendously devastating encounter, "you never told me people could be like that". The question finally becoming not only if Aryan and Kabir will ever reach London; but if they somehow actually do, what will their physical and mental condition be when they arrive?

What makes Flight so unique in its staging of an off-told tale, one of people seeking a better life in a new land, is that none of the characters presented in this story appear as flesh and blood. Rather, the audience is ushered one at a time into a special seating area, given a pair of headphones, and then watches the tale as it quite literally unfolds in front of them. This process accomplished via scenes depicted in rotating dioramas, with accompanying dialogue, narration and music.

It is through these figures and painted scenes that the brother's journey begins to take shape. The audience slowly but surely getting to know these two people quite intimately as their story progresses. We worry about them when they are in trouble; feel their mental exhaustion tinged with desperate hope as they consider their next move; and enjoy a rare moment of relaxation when they meet those who help them along the way. Such as a group of female Iran-American tourists. These young ladies completely assimilated into the Western way of life, but still recognizing something of themselves in Aryan and Kabir as they offer them food and clothes - and especially new shoes - all thanks to the power of their credit cards.

         Kabir and Aryan enter a new city on their journey to a new life

Flight is also a show with a clear double meaning. It referring not only to the ability to travel through the air; but also the brother's attempt to escape from a place which offers them no future. In an interesting twist, many of the official authority figures Aryan and Kabir meet on their travels are depicted as uniformed white birds; regardless of the country in which they happen to be at the time. These "birds" carrying guns, wearing badges and caps, and each pictured with a rather stern demeanor. These creatures all fiercely protective of the lands and boarders they patrol, and determined to keep out any who try to enter uninvited.

The models created by Rebecca Hamilton and her team are excellent. The figures and scenes ranging from deliberately crude to finally detailed. A view of a well-manicured neighborhood, complete with grass and trees, and which looks like it could be a scene out of any modern suburbia, is a good example of the latter. Another key element is the affecting music and sound design by Mark Melville - efforts which particularly hit home in the final section of the story. Adding the all important human factor to the tale is the strong voice work by the various performers. Especially when it comes to the two leads and the youthful vocal cadence they each convey. Both of these characters feeling quite real by the time the show is over.

There are a few problems here and there. It takes a few minutes for one to really get into the flow of the story, and some of the narrative is not quite clear in the beginning. Such as how Aryan and Kabir first get involved with the people who use them as undocumented workers. There are also times when one isn't exactly sure where Aryan and Kabir are, geographically. However, long before the story reaches the half-way point, one finds oneself well immersed in the tale.

Putting a human face on the subject of immigration by making its audience get to know two of those who dare to dream, Flight ends up being quite an emotionally stirring story.

Featuring (voice only): Nalini Chetty (Kabir), Farshid Rokey (Aryan), Emun Elliott (Narrator), Maryam Hamidi (Ensemble), Robert Jack (Ensemble), Rosalind Sydney (Ensemble), Waleed Akhtar (Ensemble), Adura Onashile (Ensemble), Chris Jack (Ensemble).


Created by Vox Motus

Based on the novel "Hinterland" by Caroline Brothers
Adapted by Oliver Emanuel
Directed by Candice Edmunds and Jamie Harrison
Lighting Designer: Simon Wilkinson
Co-Designer & Lead Model Maker: Rebecca Hamilton
Composer & Sound Designer: Mark Melville
Character Artist: Sav Scatola
Storyboard Artist: Kenneth MacLeod

Presented by The McKittrick Hotel & Emursive

The Heath at the McKittrick Hotel
542 West 27th Street
Tickets: 212-904-1880 or
Running Time: 45 minutes, no intermission
Closes: March 25, 2018

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