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Review: BROKEN WINGS, Charing Cross Theatre

This unique production runs until 26 March

Review: BROKEN WINGS, Charing Cross Theatre

Review: BROKEN WINGS, Charing Cross Theatre I'm not sure I was prepared for what I witnessed as I sat in the round of the Charing Cross Theatre, awaiting the overture for Broken Wings - which I'd heard so much buzz about. An adaptation of a poetic novel by Gibran Khalil Gibran, Broken Wings is pitched by Director Bronagh Lagan as being a "tale of first love, loss and identity".

So was I expecting great things? Sure. With a book by Nadim Naaman - whose stage work I've been a long-time admirer of - and an unusual premise, I was ready to experience some powerful storytelling. But what I did not expect was how hauntingly rousing the score (by Naaman and co-composer Dana Al Fardan) would be, how it would penetrate the soul, and how this ensemble of actors would elevate the material to a higher level than I thought possible.

The protagonist, Khalil Gibran, is an Arab immigrant who moves to the US at the turn of the 20th century to pursue his studies. At the age of 18, he returns to Lebanon and meets his first love, Selma, and they embark on a journey together that's centered around their struggle to honour the demands of their culture and society as well as the desires of their heart. It's a fascinating, heartbreaking, glorious tale of love and loss, of female empowerment and oppression.

These thematic dichotomies make for an engaging two hours that take you on a rather unpredictable journey. Leading this story is Lucca Chadwick-Patel as 18-year-old Khalil Gibran, Naaman himself as the older version, and graduate Noah Sinigaglia as Selma. Chadwick-Patel and Naaman are almost unrecognisable as the same man, 22 years apart, with the younger Khalil Gibran a bundle of slightly neurotic energy and youthful lust, which has been crushed out of him by the time he reaches 40 and reflects on all he has lost. But during the duets with both Khalil Gibrans - of which there are several - the spirits of young and old seem to connect and it's rather touching.

This is Sinigaglia's professional debut and it's extremely impressive to witness someone so allegedly green to the professional world deliver such a capable performance, particularly given that Selma carries a lot of the weighty scenes and belty numbers.

Let's get into the score for a moment. Steeped in Middle Eastern influence with a conversational lyrical tone, every song feels authentic yet also extremely powerful with unexpected crescendos. I can't liken the score to anything else I've heard, which is a testament to Naaman and Al Fardan's originality and commitment to honouring the source material.

The emotion packed into every vocal performance is so overwhelming, it almost feels inappropriate to applaud at the end. Silence almost conveys our appreciation better as we, the audience, let the material just sit with us, quietly digesting it. I'm loathe to single out any track, but "Spirit of the Earth" bowled me over with its melody, its build, and a beautifully powerful performance from Soophia Foroughi as Mother that I could watch many times over and never be bored.

Gregor Donnelly has done a beautiful job with set design, and despite a few glitches on the night (respect to the stage manager who intercepted that broken glass so deftly!) the transitions between each scene were incredibly impactful. This is thanks in large part to the revolve which felt as integral to the story as the words coming out of the character's mouths. I love a revolve as a storytelling vehicle and practical solution to navigating a complex or small space, and director Lagan has manipulated it perfectly here.

That being said, although this is the first time Broken Wings has been fully staged (workshops and semi-staged productions have preceded it, in London and on an international tour), it's got the gravitas and power behind it to handle a bigger stage and I'd love to see it amplified in a larger space with full orchestra. Although the six-piece orchestra here led by MD Erika Gundesen are pitch-perfect and do a beautiful job.

As my glance went from the seats in the auditorium, to the stage, and back again, I was struck by how ridiculous it is that it's the first time I've ever experienced a Middle Eastern and South Asian majority cast, and an equally diverse audience profile. Would we have had the opportunity to witness this fascinating biography of Khalil Gibran if Naaman and Al Fardan hadn't identified with it and brought it to life? I'd wager not. Giving a platform to lesser-seen faces and new voices give us fresh stories and opens our minds to a world outside our own echo chamber.

And, for me, this is why inclusivity in the arts is not just important...it is critical. Grab a ticket or ten for this musical while you can. It's currently running until 26 March but if there's any justice for this incredible cast, these bold creatives and the theatregoing public, it will live a much longer life.

Broken Wings at Charing Cross Theatre until 26 March

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From This Author - Caroline Cronin

Caroline has over seven years' experience as a theatre journalist, spanning three different publications. Now an established member of the BroadwayWorld team, Caroline specialises in musical th... (read more about this author)


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