Nadim Naaman and Dana Al Fardan based on Khalil Gibran’s novel, Broken Wings
Charing Cross Theatre
Charing Cross Theatre
Broken Wings is a musical getting its first full production in the UK following concert performances in London’s West End in 2018 and a small international tour including to Beirut where the action is set.
Its story is based on the 1912 poetic novel of poet and writer Gibran Khalil Gibran who, like the show's protagonist, was born and raised in Beirut until adolescence when the family relocated to America.
As well as its Beiruti setting, Broken Wings inherits the original work’s poetic language which seems to echo the city’s noble and cultural heritage, giving the societal mores so central to the plot an honourable and ancient fountainhead.
On the cusp of adulthood, the show's Gibran returns to Beirut where he reunites with old friends and finds ill-fated love with the high-born and beautiful Selma who is promised in marriage to the nephew of the Bishop, a powerful player in the local community.
Older Gibran, the narrator, reveals at the outset that Selma dies and it is clear that what follows will be the tragic love story that leads to this conclusion and leaves him so morose.
Musically, the show is warm and lush but there is precious little Middle Eastern inflection in the score that could give it a singular signature and set it apart from its many homogenised equivalents. The most notable exception is the one memorable number “Spirit of the Earth” sung by the divinely voiced Soophia Forough who plays Gibran’s mother but it is about love of place and belonging and brimming with nostalgia of home.
The second act is gatecrashed by a song beatifying mothers and motherhood that seems to have no place there, but it is not the only oddity and I confess to an upwardly mobile eyebrow at the Catholic Bishop giving marriage guidance advice to his stock-gigolo nephew.
The representation of venal clerics and its challenging views about the treatment of women and the patriarchy caused the book to be received with disapproval and the show certainly stays true to these underlying forces in the story. However, the controversial world view of a thirty-year-old man is ill-fitting in the mouth of a 19-year-old girl, and only slightly less unlikely when young Gibran is the author's mouthpiece, as the book fails to make a bridge between the young pair falling frivolously in love at first sight and yet having an intellect beyond their years.
It is questionable that there is sufficient plot to carry the burden of the author's ideology, but there is no argument over the near-monotone emotional pitch of the piece which lacks high points of passion both in the book and the score which are needed to make the story credible, not to say the missing electricity between the two thwarted lovers.
The ’out' from the stream of low-level unhappiness is the welcome reprise of "Spirit of the Earth" as the finale, but even that cannot camouflage the sound of young Gibran escaping back to America.
Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti