Broken Wings (Theatre Royal, Haymarket)
Important social issues mix with a heartbreaking love story in a new musical with a story to tell across decades, languages and cultures.
Broken Wings is a tale of doomed passion set in turn of the century Beirut, based on the seminal 1912 poetic novel by Lebanese-born Kahlil Gibran. The writer himself described the work as a spiritual biography, touching on themes that would emerge in other works (not least his masterpiece The Prophet), such as equality, religious corruption, the abuse of wealth, the value of free choice and the soaring potential of love, hopes and dreams.
In the musical, by West End performer Nadim Naaman and leading contemporary composer Dana Al Fardan from Qatar, an older Gibran (played by Naaman with the haunted air of a successful man harbouring the bitter disappointment of youthful unfulfillment) looks back on his first love. From his New York City studio in 1923 he recalls how his 18-year-old self returned to Beirut after emigrating to America, fell in love with the daughter of a businessman, but lost her to the nephew of a scheming bishop.
An onstage orchestra, conducted by Joe Davison, gives added substance to the richness of the score, blending a classical sound with Middle Eastern brushstrokes.
There is not, perhaps, as much variety as there could be but there is an over-riding elegance and some of the numbers – including the duet I Know Now, the potent Heart of the Earth, the quartet That Was the Day and the energetic Spirit of the Earth (led by an assured Soophia Foroughi as Mother) – are stand-out showstoppers.
Rob Houchen plays the young Gibran with a boyish intensity yet with ardent maturity suggesting the thoughtful philosopher he will become. As the object of his affections, Selma, Nikita Johal shows a spirited determination that is commendable given that she took over the role only a week ago after the show’s original star Hiba Elchikhe withdrew from the production for personal reasons.
There is strong dramatic support from Adam Linstead as the beneficent father Farris, Irvine Iqbal as the greedy Bishop, and Sami Lamine as the weak Mansour, who Selma is forced to marry. Nadeem Crowe is especially good as Gibran’s eager friend Karim; there is a crucial argument in the second act that gives a contemporary cutting edge to the historical drama, and which he plays with a timeless vehemence.
The open set by Claudio Rosas and Mira Abad allows for the orchestra to be an important part of the action, with simple yet subtle changes allowing the shift from a liberated New York to the traditional Middle East. This is helped too by Nic Farman’s lighting.
Director Bronagh Lagan allows the music to drive this drama with its eternal and enduring themes, though some of the shifts between scenes are a little jerky and unclear.
The musical created a buzz after several workshops and a well-received concept album earlier this year. Its intimate core story doesn’t always fill the mighty Theatre Royal stage, but it has a genuine heart and soul that make this short run a promising, confident and robust work in progress.
There aren’t many opportunities to see this Middle Eastern culture portrayed in the performing Arts in this country and it is to be hoped that audiences include those who might not otherwise go to the theatre who feel the show represents their background and experience as well as regulars for whom the story and music provide an introduction to a largely overlooked society on the British stage.
Picture, Marc Brenner
A version of this review originally appeared on The Reviews Hub http://www.thereviewshub.com/