Theatre review: Flight

International Festival|Church Hill Theatre Studio|Star rating: ****


Church Hill Theatre Studio

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It has become the defining narrative of our time, the tale of those who set out from Syria or Afghanistan to make the dangerously illegal journey towards western Europe; and if Caroline Brothers’ novel Hinterland is not the only piece of fiction or biography to describe how this journey has often been made by painfully young children and teenagers, her story of Afghan brothers Aryan and Kabir, and their two-year struggle to reach London, is certainly one of the most poignant.

Yet when the Edinburgh Festival first commissioned the Glasgow-based Vox Motus company to create a theatre version of the tale, I doubt whether anyone involved could have fully imagined the exercise in inspired and passionate miniaturism that takes over Church Hill Theatre Studio during this Festival, in complete contrast to the main-stage spectacle of Vox Motus’s 2015 Festival show, Dragon.

In the darkened theatre, each audience member sits alone in a booth, listening through headphones, while the story rolls before us in a series of exquisitely-crafted tiny installations, as 15-year-old Aryan and his little brother, only 8, brave the dangers of the Mediterranean, or the ultimate agony of the jungle camp at Calais.

The story is in some ways a simple one, told with an edge of gentle tragedy in Oliver Emanuel’s text, and voiced, in the recorded soundtrack, by a fine team of nine actors.

Yet the poignant beauty of the tiny puppets, and the sheer imaginative vividness of the world they inhabit, engraves this exquisite show on the memory, shaming the very idea of a “refugee threat” with its profound sense of the vulnerability of those small travellers.

Theatre, installation art, or something else entirely, Flight tells its tale with a passion reflected in every detail of its tiny artworks; and with all the care and tenderness for which Aryan and Kabir long, but which they are so brutally denied, almost to the last.

Joyce McMillan

Until 27 August. Tomorrow, times vary.