Broken Wings at the Theatre Royal Haymarket: a talented cast cannot save this story of star-crossed lovers

Anthony Walker-Cook reviews this new adaptation of Broken Wings, based on the poetic novel by Kahlil Gibran.

Broken Wings is a fascinating example of how the poetic prose of a novel can struggle to be adapted for the stage. Based on Kahlil Gibran’s novel of the same name, Broken Wings follows the familiar narrative of impossible loss and heart ache. With a comic friend, beautiful love interest and caring father, the conventional elements of an unrequited love story are all in place. Unfortunately, however, Broken Wings does little to break free of this narrow frame and, whilst the music is amiably performed by all the cast, little variation in the tone of the production results in an evening at the theatre that is at best competent, at worst, boring.

Kahlil Gibran has just returned to Beirut, leaving his mother and family in Boston, where he lived during an early part of his life before his father’s imprisonment for embezzlement. Overseeing the narrative is Gibran aged forty, played by Nadim Naaman, who watches his younger self, played by Rob Houchen, return to a place that clearly pulls his heart. After seeing his friend Karim Bawab (Nadeem Crowe), he goes to the home of Farris Karamy (Adam Linstead), a friend of his father. It is with Farris’s daughter, Selma Karamy (Nikita Johal), whom Gibran falls in love, and the feeling is mutual. However, Selma is soon claimed to be the wife of Mansour Bey Galib (Sami Lamine), nephew of the Bishop (Irvine Iqbal), and the possibility of being together is quickly dashed.

The opening prologue of Broken Wings is beautiful and Joe Davison’s conducting of a small orchestra brings out an open and free chorus that quickly implies a production full of soaring songs and melodies. Yet Dana Al Fardan and Nadim Naaman’s music stays at one level throughout the entire production: that is, a series of belting numbers for different members of the cast. The lack of variety in the music regrettably hinders the show: do we need another ballad telling of forbidden love? At a run length of two hours, definitely not.

Rob Houchen and Nikita Johal. Photograph: Marc Brenner

Certainly, the narrative has an older Gibran looking back at his younger self from New York, but there’s little to distinguish the settings. The first song in Beirut, ‘All I Longed To See’, has so much potent opportunity to form an evocative setting, but becomes an a regrettably bland ensemble number. The only different song is ‘Spirit of the Earth’, which is powerfully sung by Soophia Forough, and to which the cast joyfully return at the end of the show. Offering a deeper, pulsating rhythm, ‘Sprit of the Earth’ captures something of the heady romance audiences would expect in the East.

None of the singing in Broken Wings is bad, and actually many grapple well with the constant barrage of ballads throughout the evening. It is certainly impressive that Johal and Houchen especially stay in such strong voice as the night continues given the amount of work they both have to do. Considering Johal stepped into the main role only last week, her achievement should be highly praised. But as the show progresses, the monotony of the narrative and songs does little to demonstrate the talent on stage.

Nadim Naaman. Photograph: Marc Brenner

Throughout Broken Wings characters refer to Selma’s eyes. The younger Gibran observes ‘you’re eyes smiled at me before’. This marker of love is one that has been used throughout dramatic history, no less by William Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet, a similar tale of love destined to fail. Yet the clichés of the mode are here: the happy father, the young couple meeting in a clandestine place and a zealous authority figure posing a problem to their love. Broken Wings tries incredibly hard to be different, but regrettably is falls into a narrative pattern that audiences are familiar with, the potential to be different in its setting ruefully underused. When characters die, they do almost lethargically, surrounded by others that seem unable to express any raw emotion.

This review began with the suggestion that this adaptation of Broken Wings demonstrates the difficulty of adapting a poetic novel for the stage. Nadim Naaman’s note in the programme writes that in the original novel, ‘musicality leaps of the page.’ In transferring such innate beauty, which understandably has an appeal, it feels as if something has been missed in this production and what has emerged is a verbose series of ballads. The music is beautiful, and the actors high skilled, but both lack the drive needed to produce a show that demonstrates the impossibility of the lead’s love in a variety of ways. This story of star-crossed lovers, sadly, needs to do more if it wants to touch our hearts.

2.5/5

Broken Wings is playing at the Theatre Royal Haymarket until the 4thAugust, 2018.

Feature photograph: Marc Brenner


Anthony Walker-Cook is a PhD candidate at UCL and is the Theatre editor for London Student. Alongside academic commitments he has several reviews forthcoming with major journals, including Notes and Queries, and contributes to other theatre websites. His interests include theatre adaptation, early modern drama and all things eighteenth century. For more information please contact: anthony.walker-cook.17@ucl.ac.uk

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