3 June 2019

A Thousand Splendid Suns - Northern Stage

There's nothing like theatre to put your own life into perspective sometimes. Especially when the subject matter involves civil war, child marriage and the horrors of the Taliban. You start to realise that your own problems are pretty trivial compared to the terrible suffering of women and girls in Afghanistan. It's easy to read a book like A Thousand Splendid Suns or Malala and feel enraged, then go back to your normal life. What can we possibly do about it? All of these thoughts started running through my head whilst watching this incredibly moving and mesmerising play adapted by Ursula Rani Sarma.

A Thousand Splendid Suns play
The set really transports you to Afghanistan - photo by Pamela Raith
2007's A Thousand Splendid Suns was an international bestseller for author Khaled Hosseini, whose first novel The Kite Runner sold seven million copies in the USA. Heavily influenced by his trips back to Afghanistan after living in America for nearly thirty years, the book tells the story of the unlikely friendship between two women, Mariam and Laila (fantastic performances by Amina Zia and Sujaya Dasgupta respectively). We meet Laila and her parents in the first scene, who are preparing to leave their home when a devastating airstrike leaves Laila orphaned. She is pulled from the rubble by Rasheed (a scarily convincing Pal Aron), an older neighbour who at first appears helpful but sees the change to take a second wife. His first wife, Mariam is understandably upset by this plan, however the deep relationship they build as a result of the situation is moving and becomes a light in the midst of unending darkness. 

A Thousand Splendid Suns Northern Stage
Rasheed's cruelty to his wives becomes increasingly worse - photo by Pamela Raith
The domestic abuse suffered by the two women is harrowingly depicted, with one scene showing Mariam being flogged (she cleverly leaves her body soon after the beating starts) and Laila having to give her body away to stop Rasheed from being violent. When Laila gets pregnant and has to have a Caesearean without anaesthetic, you start to realise the scale of the horrors of the war. Her daughter, Aziza (the charming Shala Nyx) is treated like a second class citizen from birth, Rasheed's disappointment obvious and expected. Mariam becomes like a grandmother to her, and their son Zalmai.

Laila's traumatic birth - photo by Pamela Raith
The tension reaches an all time high when Laila's childhood sweetheart Tariq (who she thinks has been killed) comes back to reunite with her. Rasheed finds out, and all hell breaks loose. The women also try and leave the area, which doesn't end well. He sees the women as his possessions and will do whatever it takes to keep them down. The dialogue around education  (or lack of it), the punishments for going out alone (lashings and beatings) and the use of full burqas in the play reminds you of the extent of the Taliban's misogynist rule. 

Laila  (Sujaya Dasgupta) and Mariam (Amina Zia)
Despite all of the horrors, the heart of the story is about family, sisterhood, overcoming hardships and the strength of the human spirit in the face of unimaginable horrors. I was totally moved and captivated from the first second, hoping for a way out for Laila and Mariam and a better future for their children. It's not exactly a happy ending, but how could it be based on the terrible reality of life for women in Afghanistan? But there is hope for a better future. As I left I donated some money towards domestic violence victims in Afghanistan, and got a wake up call about the freedoms we enjoy here and not to take them for granted. 

A Thousand Splendid Suns is at Northern Stage until 15th June. Book tickets here 

*I received two tickets in exchange for a review.

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