A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS
The REP, Birmingham, Thursday 9th May, 2019
Khaled Hosseini’s novel comes to the stage in this engrossing adaptation by Ursula Rani Sarma. Set in Afghanistan after the Soviets left, this is the story of two women who are married to the same man. Sharing hardship and mistreatment, the two women form a bond that lasts for years, leading to one of them making the ultimate sacrifice. It’s a gripping tale, superbly told. Sarma’s script brings out humour and warmth in horrendous circumstances as bombs drop on Kabul and the Taliban takes control.
The production hinges on the central performances of the two women. Sujaya Dasgupta is instantly appealing as young Laila, driven by tragedy to marry the man who rescues her from the rubble of her family home. Laila is primarily a victim of circumstance and oppression, but she has an indomitable spirit. Dasgupta brings her to life without sentimentality; we are with her all the way. Also great is Amina Zia as the initially resentful Mariam, regarding Laila as a threat but warming to her as events unfold.
Pal Aron is perfectly villainous as the tyrannical Rasheed, while Waleed Akhtar cuts a sympathetic figure as Tariq, Laila’s young love. We meet Tariq in flashbacks, with Akhtar and Dasgupta displaying youthful vigour and innocence. There is solid support from Shala Byx as Aziza and Munir Khairdin in a range of roles.
Ana Ines Jabares-Pita’s set is a rocky landscape, serving as all the story’s locations – the characters are forever stuck between rocks and hard places!
This is a fitting swan song for the REP’s artistic director, Roxana Silbert, before she leaves Birmingham for pastures new. Thoroughly involving, this is an excellent piece of storytelling, casting light onto a part of the world we don’t hear much about. The play emphasises the humanity of the characters – of all the characters, even the loathsome Rasheed! – and we see just how ordinary and relatable they are, even in the face of extreme events. The story could be played out in other countries (Syria, for example) to remind us that behind the statistics and the headlines, these are real people’s lives and experiences.
A wonderful piece of theatre, powerful, pertinent and captivating. Splendid, in fact.
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