WHEN Hamed Amiri wrote The Boy With Two Hearts, and then – two years ago – began work with Phil Porter on an adaptation for the stage, he could never have imagined the context under which the curtain would first be raised.

The play retells the true story of the Amiri family’s flight from Afghanistan’s first Taliban government in 2000, and therefore cannot be extrapolated from current world events. Twenty years on, with the Taliban back in power, the Amiris’ story is being repeated as a new generation of Afghans embark on their own journeys into the unknown, in search simply of survival.

The hauntingly beautiful vocals of singer Elaha Soroor bring us immediately into a world centred on the sofra, the traditional woven rug around which meals and – crucially – stories are shared.

The National Wales: Géhane Strehler who plays Fariba makes her speech demanding freedom for Afghan women in The Boy with Two Hearts. Photo: Jorge LizaldeGéhane Strehler who plays Fariba makes her speech demanding freedom for Afghan women in The Boy with Two Hearts. Photo: Jorge Lizalde

This is the city of Herat, in north-western Afghanistan. There is a 9pm curfew and women are not permitted to walk the streets alone at any time.

Fariba (Géhane Strehler), mother of three young boys, is not prepared to submit to the regime’s tyranny and "a life without freedom, without choices". As she says in a speech she gives in the local marketplace: "Allah knows, a woman is so much more than this."

There is a brief encounter with a footsoldier of the regime, and a single shot during a search of the Amiri family home, but for the most part we are cocooned in the warm embrace of familial bonds.

READ MORE: Welsh Refugee Council says UK scheme can help Afghans

Husband and father Mohammed (Dana Haqjoo) supports his wife’s activism to the hilt, and encourages his three lively sons to stick together come what may. Even the initial flight from their homeland – five people crammed inside a secret compartment within the boot of a car – is conveyed with humour, and a prevailing sense that this family will be impossible to separate.

Aside from its flight-to-safety narrative, which follows a linear if geographically convoluted route, the play’s main subject is that of its title. Eldest brother Hussein (Ahmad Sakhi) has a problem with his heart – and it is for this reason the family must not only flee Afghanistan, but make it to the UK where specialist cardiology might save his life.

The National Wales: Singer Elaha Soroor performs in The Boy with Two Hearts at Wales Millennium Centre. Photo: Jorge LizaldeSinger Elaha Soroor performs in The Boy with Two Hearts at Wales Millennium Centre. Photo: Jorge Lizalde

In many ways the tale – if we put aside for a moment the fact of its being true – is as predictable as it is by turns tragic, heart-rending and heart-warming. What lifts The Boy With Two Hearts from mere recount of undoubtedly worthy subject matter is precisely that which should elevate a play beyond mere plot or even its context: its dramaturgy.

Director Amit Sharma and producer Pádraig Cusack have pulled off the kind of production that has reviewers reaching for the programme notes to credit the entire backstage team in addition to the brilliantly versatile cast.

There is not room here to mention all of those involved by name, but suffice to say the design, lighting, sound and visuals on this original Wales Millennium Centre production are pitch perfect.

There is a levity to the video installation that dovetails beautifully with the jocular tone adopted by the Amiri brothers' ‘three musketeers’ act, as over the course of two hours we watch Hamed (Farshad Rokey), Hessam (Shamail Ali) and Hussein grow before our eyes – from wide-eyed, football-obsessed schoolboys to young men with a wisdom born of shouldering the weight of the world.

READ MORE: Refugees welcome carved into sand at Tenby north beach

The emotional pendulum the boys swing around, from banter to brotherly love, is underscored always with humour – and it is this light touch that lends the script an authentic humanity, necessary to do justice to its heavy themes.

Ostensibly a play about a teenage asylum seeker suffering with a heart condition, where – according to the words of just one of the production’s song lyrics "the wind is the corpse of a child on the shoulder of the wind" – it is as much a drama about the universality of football, food and rude jokes; the things that make us, whatever our own circumstances and story, human beings.

The boys watch Knight Rider in a freezing Moscow flat, purchase fake passports that see them through the airport in Kiev, kick footballs from dawn until dusk in an Austrian refugee camp, and save money earned working in a pizza place in Germany for the train to Holland.

The interval comes as the family reach the place where it is claimed "every failed refugee ends up" – the infamous Sangatte internment camp near Calais.

The National Wales: The Amiri family's journey told on stage at Wales Millennium Centre - The Boy with Two Hearts. Photo: Jorge LizaldeThe Amiri family's journey told on stage at Wales Millennium Centre - The Boy with Two Hearts. Photo: Jorge Lizalde

When they finally reach the UK, the family are housed in Cardiff. An uplifting sequence follows, packed with local references to delight the local audience: a guitar-driven version of Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, Cathays High School jumpers, and a reference to Cardiff City FC not quite being the boys’ beloved Manchester United.

When Hussein graduates from the University of South Wales with a BSc in network management and security, it seems we are headed for the ‘happy ending’ many refugee narratives often unrealistically peddle.

Trauma in country of origin? Check. Difficult journey with many times of hardship and moments of grave danger? Check. Safe arrival in welcoming new home? Check.

What makes The Boy With Two Hearts stand out from such comforting stories, of course – those told in a linear way that ultimately serve to insulate us from the messy realities of refugee lives – is not only the tragedy that befalls the Amiris long after they have settled in Wales, but the simple fact that the story is true.

READ MORE: Afghan refugees are now making their home in Wales

This is Hamed and Hessam Amiri’s real-life tribute to their beloved brother. Skilful, sensitive handling of this central fact makes it not only a masterful piece of storytelling, but one that manages to capture something profound. Not about the heavy themes of death, repression and exile, but things that are more important still: hope in the face of danger, faith in humanity, love across borders, family, and how we carry on.

The Boy With Two Hearts continues at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff until October 23.

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