Thursday, 27 June 2019

REVIEW: A Thousand Splendid Suns at the Nuffield Southampton Theatres

Khalid Hosseini 2007 novel earned widespread critical acclaim when published and was adapted for the stage by Ursula Rani Sarma in 2017. Unlike his first book The Kite Runner which had a West End run in 2017 and focused on male friendship and Father- Son relationships, this extraordinary story is focused on the relationship between two women in the highly oppressive regime of Afghanistan in the not too distant past. It is an incredibly moving and powerful story that is educational and shocking to the Western eye as it exposes the truths behind the headlines of the Taliban regime. It will make an immense film if it ever makes it to the screen, but in the meantime, you should go and see this production at The NST Southampton as it brings real understanding about a culture that it is hard to believe or understand.

It takes its title from a poem about Kabul which describes the beautiful idyllic city which is beloved by the characters but now worn torn and being destroyed by terrorists and bombings. The central character is Laila, played with an intelligent and understated calm by Sujaya Dasgupta who is orphaned of her more western family in the war and taken as a second wife by the more traditional and fervent Rasheed (Pal Aron). The harsh relationship between the two of them and his first wife Mariam, isolated after 18 years of marriage to him forms the basis of the story as war and totalitarian religious state engulfs their homeland. The indignities and oppression the two women suffer creates a strong bond between them that it hard not to be moved by.

Three other characters emerge in the story to add depth to the heart-breaking story. Laila’s first love the wounded Tariq (Waleed Akhtar), her daughter, Aziza (Shala Nyx returning to the NST after her good performance in Shadow Factory) and her son Zalmai (Mollie Lambert). They test the relationships between the married three to shocking outcomes which brings tears to the eyes of many in the audience. One word is repeated about how the women must survive, “Endure”.

The magical elements by Ben Hart are some of the most successful element of the staging, symbolically and theatrically bringing alive key moments of a hanging, a beating and ghost like disappearances. This is a tremendous impactful story that deserves to be told in whatever form it can be and can’t fail to engage the audience and provoke debate, even though it is a far from perfect production. Designer Ana Ines Jabares- Pita has set the action on a fibre glass multi-level mound which is poorly painted and reflects the lights above. It fails to create the sense of a harsh hot location or the circumstances in which they live. Director Roxana Silbert does not seem to have got the best from all the actors some of whom seem strangely contained or one dimensional perhaps trying to reflect the impact the circumstances have had on them, but it is so noticeable it becomes a distraction.

Nevertheless, the central performance from Laila and intense shocking storyline
carries the show and you do end up caring about the outcomes for her and her children and her friendship with Mariam. You also leave with a much better understanding of what life must be like in these countries where the harsh regimes and indoctrinated lifestyles are both alien to us and for the inhabitants inescapable. It makes you think about the challenges facing genuine refugees from such places and their motivation and desperation to escape. For that alone it is worth a Four-star rating as this is what good theatre should always do, inform, educate and entertain.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★★ 

Seat: Stalls row A | Price of ticket: £30
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