A Thousand Splendid Suns

2nd May to 6th July 2019

Khalid Hosseini | Birmingham Repertory Theatre | Directed by Roxana Silbert

Khalid Hosseini’s much-loved 2007 novel tells the deeply affecting story of an unlikely friendship between two Afghan women, both married to the same husband. The narrative spans several decades, starting in 1992 in an Afghanistan ravaged by civil war. 15-year-old Laila (Sujaya Dasgupta) is orphaned and ‘rescued’ by her older (much older) neighbour Rasheed (Pal Aron), who takes her into his home by making her his second wife. Rasheed’s first wife Mariam (Amina Zia) is forced to accept this second marriage and so begins a powerful, epic tale of resentment, friendship and ultimately sisterhood against the brutal backdrop of Taliban rule.

Roxana Silbert, in her final production as The REP’s Artistic Director, brings this European stage premiere of the spiritual sequel to The Kite Runner to Birmingham. Adapted for the stage by playwright Ursula Rani Sarma, it is an important play telling a painful but important story of the disproportionate suffering of women in war. It matters: as tentative peace talks progress in Afghanistan, Hosseini’s message that women’s voices must be heard for this process to work is vital.

Disappointing then, that despite the compelling storyline and some moments of pathos in this adaptation, it never quite lands. Ana Ines Jabares-Pita’s set design, an arrangement of rocks and boulders evoking the harshness of rural Kabul, feels static. The revelations (no spoilers here) lack the shock and impact they have in the novel. Emotional investment in the characters and relationships is, ultimately, left wanting. The flashback sequences and jumps forward in years are handled clearly, but it all feels a little rushed.

Sujaya Dasgupta’s Laila and Amina Zia’s Mariam, the two women at the heart of the story who find themselves unlikely allies, hold the cast together in their central performances. Pal Aron captures the deep-rooted misogyny of abusive husband Rasheed in an unsettling performance which does not allow us to view him as a two-dimensional monster figure. Tripling in various roles, the ensemble effectively brings to life the young version of Mariam alongside a host of other characters who people the cruel, hard lives of Rasheed’s wives.

Hosseini was inspired to write A Thousand Splendid Suns when he returned to Afghanistan after nearly 30 years away and spoke to women about their experiences of living in a country torn apart by foreign powers, civil war and the Taliban. In attempting to peel back the burqa and explore the humanity of these dehumanised but incredibly strong and inspiring women, the novel and play deserve to be read and seen.

A Thousand Splendid Suns is playing at The Birmingham Rep until 18th May before touring to London, Newcastle upon Tyne and Southampton.

A Thousand Splendid Suns