Review: ‘Flight’ Has No Live Actors. But Its Story of Two Afghan Boys Feels So Real.



Instead of actors, “Flight” tells the story of Afghan refugee brothers using tiny figures in a diorama and with intricate sound design. Credit Emon Hassan for The New York Times

The wood-paneled elevator that ferries guests up to “Flight” at the McKittrick Hotel rises at a languid pace, and the tinny, piped-in music sounds like something out of a speakeasy. Atmospherically, it seems an awkward match with the show you’ve come to see, about a pair of Afghan child refugees crossing Europe in search of sanctuary.

So does the McKittrick, not a hotel at all but the sprawling Chelsea complex that is the longtime home of the immersive-theater behemoth “Sleep No More,” where spectators roam dimly lit halls on multiple floors, traipsing through rooms that are essentially art installations in which performances periodically break out.

Created by the Scottish company Vox Motus, and a hit at the Edinburgh International Festival, “Flight” is 180 degrees different from that vast and ambulatory production — still, intimate, visceral, rendered on a Lilliputian scale and requiring you to do nothing but watch and listen. Intricately designed yet with no live performers, it is arguably not even theater. But it is pulse-pounding, immersive storytelling, strange and exquisite and intensely affecting.

As you’re led to it in the darkn, your seat looks like a library carrel, partitioned off like all of the others. You sit, you don a pair of headphones and in a few moments the show will appear, tableaus inside a succession of little windows, lit up one by one and slowly revolving on a carousel.

The refugees are orphans. Darling round-faced Kabir is 7 or 8, and his big brother Aryan is on the cusp of adolescence, the two of them crossing perilously from Turkey into Greece. The landscape is rocky and they are tiny against it, but bound, they are sure, for England, where they want to go to school.


To watch ”Flight,” audience members don headphones in personal spaces much like library carrels. Credit Emon Hassan for The New York Times

Aryan (voiced by Farshid Rokey) has taught Kabir (voiced by Nalini Chetty) their route, drilling it into him so thoroughly that the boy speaks it like one long, exultant word:


As soon as their story begins, you are whooshed into it with an immediacy that would be impossible in any other form. On screen or in print or even with live actors, physical and emotional distance would form a barrier. But the directors, Jamie Harrison (whose big upcoming Broadway credit is for the illusions in “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”) and Candice Edmunds, have created a world in miniature inches from our own eyes that allows us, somehow, a straight line into all of its fear and danger and battered resilience.

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