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Broken Wings at Charing Cross Theatre | Review

Society in Beirut at the beginning of the twentieth-century isn’t reflected all that positively in Broken Wings, in which Khalil Gibran (Nadim Naaman) laments not only the loss – in more ways than one – of his beloved Selma Keramy (Noah Sinigaglia) but considers other parts of the world to be considerably more progressive. Having gone off to the United States to study, he’s been exposed to the American lifestyle, in which people marry for love. Some, of course, might well marry for other reasons, but the salient point is that there isn’t pressure from the local community for a younger adult to marry someone they don’t actually love, but are effectively forced to do so anyway for family honour.

Broken Wings. Ayesha Patel (Dima Bawab), Lucca Chadwick-Patel (Young Khalil Gibran) & Stephen Raman-Hughes (Farris Karamy). Credit - Danny Kaan
Broken Wings. Ayesha Patel (Dima Bawab), Lucca Chadwick-Patel (Young Khalil Gibran) & Stephen Raman-Hughes (Farris Karamy). Credit – Danny Kaan

The musical, filled as it is with ballads that give the audience the hairdryer treatment, each number ending with a Very Long Note, makes a distinction between organised religion (bad) and God Himself (good). As Gibran points out, nobody – at least not in Beirut – “goes against the bishop”, Bulos Galib (Johan Munir), or if they do, the price to be paid doesn’t appear to be worth it. The bishop’s nephew, Mansour (Haroun Al Jeddai), lives a playboy lifestyle, but the bishop insists he must settle down and become a family man.

There are too many musical numbers in a similar style, brooding and intense, which at least makes the relatively rare joyous showtunes stand out. I wonder if the show could benefit from a more generous dose of humour (even Les Misérables has the Thénardiers, villainous but also light-hearted roles). I am also still in two minds as to whether the narrative is helped or hindered by hindsight – Gibran, aged 40, looks back on events that took place twenty-two years before. His 18-year-old self (Lucca Chadwick-Patel) strove for a better life for himself and for Selma, who he considered to be (with justification) an intelligent and sophisticated woman.

But, to be crude, the expectation was that she would stay at home and be a baby machine, with the bishop disapproving of her leaving the house at all, even if Mansour isn’t bothered by her going for a walk. Gibran’s longing for women of all kinds to be given more respect and recognition by the world at large resonates well in this day and age. Declarations of love, while lovely, go on for so long they start to lose their emotional impact, and when the end comes for certain characters, the audience may well have been watching an opera.

There’s a hopeful (if not exactly ‘happy’ ending) in this dense social commentary: the show’s programme is headed, “The most beautiful instinct inside us all / To love who we love”, but there’s so much more going on than that. The lighting (Nic Farman) creates an appropriate outdoor – or indeed indoor – atmosphere for various scenes, while six musicians directed by Erika Gundesen provide a melodic and polished accompaniment to the songs. A thoughtful piece of theatre, it’s the polar opposite of an overly exuberant jukebox musical, and thus, despite some dispiriting moments, is simply best described as something different.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

New York City, 1923. Through exquisite poetry and enchanting music, an ageing Gibran narrates our tale, transporting us back two decades and across continents, to turn-of-the-century Beirut. Gibran meets Selma; their connection is instant and their love affair, fated. However, their journey to happiness is soon thrown off course, as the pair face obstacles that shake the delicate foundation of their partnership. Will their love win out or will their dream of a life together be torn apart?

Performed in-the-round, Broken Wings takes us on an unmissable musical voyage, exploring issues of gender equality, immigration, the freedom to love who we love, and what ‘home’ really means to us. Over a century later, and the themes and debates raised in Gibran’s story, remain increasingly relevant today.

Cast: Yasmeen Audi (Layla Bawab/Ensemble), Haroun Al Jeddal (Mansour Bey Galib), Lucca Chadwick-Patel (Young Kahlil Gibran), Soophia Foroughi (Mother), Alex Kais (Ensemble), Johan Munir (Bishop Bulos), Nadim Naaman (Kahlil Gibran), Ayesha Patel (Dima Bawab), Stephen Rahman-Hughes (Faris)and Noah Sinigaglia (Selma Karamy)

Director: Bronagh Lagan; Musical Director: Erika Gundesen; Orchestrations: Joe Davidson; Set & Costume Designer: Gregor Donnelly; Choreographer: Philip Michael Thomas; Lighting Designer: Nic Farman; Sound Designer: Andrew Johnson; Casting Director: Jane Deitch; Assistant Director: Riwa Saab.

Kahlil Gibran’s
Written by Nadim Naaman and Dana Al Fardan
Charing Cross Theatre, The Arches, Villiers Street, London WC2N 6NL


1 thought on “Broken Wings at Charing Cross Theatre | Review”

  1. Reply to Broken Wings Review

    Broken Wings, the new musical at London’s Charing Cross theater is bound to get mixed reviews – a few positive by lovers of author Kahlil Gibran’s works along with scathing reactions by academics who accuse the Lebanese American poet of sentimental Orientalism. This dialogue has been ongoing for nearly a century, – actually since 1923 with Alfred Knopf’s publication of his longtime best seller The Prophet. Gibran’s early experiences in literary Boston are seldom detailed. Do the producers, writers, critics give credit to the origins of Gibran’s title – Broken Wings? Wouldn’t the British audience love to know that the !910 Stratford and Avon prize winner is responsible for the title of the current production? Poet Josephine Preston Peabody whose The Piper was produced in Stratford, London and New York also mentored young Gibran during his artistic maturation. From their 1898 meeting till their 1905 separation, it was Josephine who called him her “Syrian Genius” and wrote a poem about him watching sheep in his hometown Bsharri near the Cedars of Lebanon. They shared works, and during their dalliance he read excerpts from her Wings a one act play she was writing during their early twentieth century friendship. Forever moved by her 1906 marriage to Harvard Professor Lionel Marks, Gibran carried with him echoes of her words. And in 1912 entitled his semi-autobiographical love story, after the final lines of her drama: “Broken Wings”.

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