Review: FLIGHT at Studio Theatre


BWW Review: FLIGHT at Studio Theatre
Athens. Image from Flight by Vox Motus. Photo: Mihaila Bodlovic.

Tell your own story, brother.

The plight of refugees has become a mainstay in our public consciousness, with alarmingly increasing regularity in recent years. We talk about refugees in a host of ways – as the victims of war and climate change, the aftermath of violent unrest, the subjects of hateful rhetoric and legislation. But most of that talk is about refugees – it’s much rarer to hear their stories first-hand unless you’re actively engaged in that space.

Enter Flight, Studio Theatre’s latest production.

Flight, based on Caroline Brothers’ novel Hinterland, follows orphaned Afghan brothers Aryan and Kabir through their treacherous journey from Afghanistan through Europe to reach their uncle in London. Throughout their story, the boys recite their route, with varying degrees of hope, wonder, and despair: Kabul-Tehran-Istanbul-Athens- Rome-Paris-London. Both the show and the novel reveal to audiences the dangers they face as unaccompanied migrant children – from sea crossings and forced labor to abuse and threats from authorities – as well as moments of human kindness and support. Through their eyes, we learn about their decision to leave their home and what they hope to find in England, and what propels them through the darkest parts of their odyssey. Brothers based her novel on the “lost boys” she met, interviewed, and reported on while covering the makeshift refugee camps in France; she then expanded to the novel to better explore questions about global responsibility to children like Aryan and Kabir, and to dive deeper into their own tales. By letting Aryan and Kabir tell their own story, Studio’s production gives audiences greater insight into a complex issue and a human face to an idea that, mercifully, is abstract for many.

BWW Review: FLIGHT at Studio Theatre
Paris sequence. Image from Flight by Vox Motus. Photo: Drew Farrell.

Studio’s production isn’t unique only for its perspective. In the age of Covid, we’ve seen theaters adapt to the pandemic, but this particular experience felt unique. Flight, directed by Candice Edmunds and Jamie Harrison, is presented as an individual experience, though still in the theater rather than at home. Viewers are taken to individual booths surrounding a rotating carousel, and are immersed in Aryan and Kabir’s story through a recording while viewing dioramas that rotate past the viewer in time to the tale; essentially, viewers are immersed in a 3D graphic novel. The dioramas, created by Scottish theatre company Vox Motus and adapted by Oliver Emanuel, are beautifully detailed carvings and paintings in light boxes that highlight each scene as it passes the viewer in time to the recording. The carousel central to the structure actually makes two rotations, so the scenes are carefully placed to utilize the space, and the result is an incredibly clever and immersive production. It seems counterintuitive that such an isolated experience would work for live theater, but, other than a slight need to adjust to the initially loud headphones (mostly in contrast to the quiet room when you enter), I still felt connected in a way I don’t think I would have been able to feel at home or viewing through a screen. The particular medium also allowed for some intriguing creativity to tell the brothers’ story; scenes in flashbacks and dreams were presented with less precise pieces, the sharp lines of reality blurred in thought. More difficult, violent moments were presented artistically in a way that conveyed the point without forcing viewers to watch those moments in full. And, in a way that simply could not exist in live or recorded productions, the usage of these dioramas allowed for beautifully detailed views of each place the brothers traveled, allowing the audience to share in their wonder and alienation. The latter feeling was also supported by the production’s decision not to translate conversations with any of the strangers they encountered; like the brothers, the audience is left attempting to infer what is being said, but likely won’t fully understand, an immersive technique that was particularly effective.

In truth, I only have one criticism of this production: I found the ending to be a bit abrupt. There is an emotional climax toward the end of the story that can and should hit viewers hard. However, the narration and rotation barreled on toward the poetic conclusion, which left me both frustrated that I didn’t have time to register and react to the climax and in turn disappointed that my mental attempt to process had distracted me from the gorgeous closing. I feel like a few more moments to sit with the aftermath of this event – as well as explore the fallout for the second brother and the conclusion of their journey – would have been welcome, and would have made the story all the more powerful.

Overall, though, Flight is an experience that will stay with viewers, as it should. It’s an especially poignant production in the aftermath of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, though it’s also a reminder that stories like Aryan and Kabir’s existed long before, and will continue to exist long after the political and military dust have settled. But Studio’s production is a beautiful, clever presentation of a heart wrenching story, and perfectly captures the love, hope, and loss that drives refugees – and all of us.

The Studio Theatre’s production of Flight is playing through March 6, 2022. Run time is approximately 45 minutes. Audiences experience the performance through individual headsets in personal viewing booths, and are capped at 25 patrons at a time. Please note that the production contains brief flashing lights, loud sound effects, and periods of total darkness as well as scenes of peril and a brief depiction of sexual assault. This production is not recommended for audiences under the age of 13, and some audience members have found the experience of viewing the show claustrophobic. More information and tickets can be found on the Studio Theatre website.

Studio Theatre has also highlighted resources for those interested in helping unaccompanied minors like those featured in the production, including Tahirih Justice Center, Afghan Asylum Project, and Kids In Need of Defense (KIND).


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