Sitting in your own private booth, with headphones on, a tale of two orphaned refugees unfolds in front of you. But prepare for an unconventional theatre experience: there are no actors on a stage. Young Aryan and Kabir’s epic journey on foot from Kabul to London is told through 200 intricate miniature dioramas.
Flight is an unforgettable experience based on journalist Caroline Brothers’ novel Hinterland. Producer Susannah Armitage was very moved by the book and suggested it would be a good story for Vox Motus founders Candice Edmunds and Jamie Harrison.
‘Jamie’s and my mission has been staging things others would normally shy away from or find impossible, such as the idea of travelling across thousands of kilometres,’ says Edmunds. ‘So this was right up our street.’
They originally planned to recreate the drama of the boys’ experience using puppets and actors. However, during the development of the show, the refugee crisis intensified as the war in Syria intensified, and the terrible scenes of children being washed up on beaches in Turkey caught the media spotlight. Edmunds and Harrison had a moment of doubt about the production. Would anyone want to see this story when it was all over the news? through busy train stations, sea crossings, encountering menacing strangers and more as they try to make it to Britain where they want to go to school. It’s a timely tale told in a completely engrossing way.
Being in your own dark private space, with headphones on, makes it very intense and personal
‘Without the booths, people would have the interference of the people around them,’ says Edmunds. ‘What started as a logistical solution to focusing field of vision on the scenes unfolding became an inherent part of the experience. Being in your own dark private space, with headphones on, makes it very intense and personal. People have come out and said they had no idea how long they were in there because they got really drawn in.’
It’s a novel approach for theatremakers, for whom the communal experience is an important part of the production. And for the team behind it, there’s a particularly different feeling, says Edmunds. ‘There’s no moment where the audience stands up and applauds afterwards,’ she says. People are led in individually and come out individually.’
However, while there’s no immediate applause after the show for the producers to gauge people’s response, praise for Flight has been in no short supply. It won a Herald Angel Award and was picked as a New York Times Unforgettable Theatre Moment.
Jamie loves Victoriana, peep shows and worlds in miniature, and this is the perfect way of journeying across thousands of kilometres
They went back to the drawing board, thrashing out how they could present the tale in a way that would be so compelling that people would want to see it, no matter that this heart-wrenching dilemma has no easy answers. They soon realised using miniature models would be the solution and set to work creating the hundreds of individual scenes. ‘Jamie loves Victoriana, peep shows and worlds in miniature, and this is the perfect way of journeying across thousands of kilometres,’ says Edmunds.
The show, which takes places at our partner venue the Bridge Theatre, uses a rotating carousel to reveal the refugees’ journey in 2018. Among the critics’ comments, the Observer said it was ‘extraordinary’, the New York Times described it as ‘pulse-pounding, immersive storytelling’, and the Scotsman said it was ‘exquisite’.