Review: A Thousand Splendid Suns at The Birmingham Rep

Richard Lutz takes his pew for a play about Afghanistan’s enduring nightmare.

The horror of Afghanistan’s continual state of war unfolds like a bloody roadmap.

This play, A Thousand Splendid Suns, is based on Khaled Hosseini’s bestseller novel which records one family’s murderous history to illustrate how human nature turned depraved when the Taliban rode into Kabul two decades ago.

The terrorists banned women from being seen alone in public, not being covered, going to school or even singing a song. They were stoned, whipped or killed for their petty violation of insane laws. But… and it is a big but, does a good novel naturally make a good play?  Does it translate? Is it as gripping as the original book?

Here, it is – and isn’t.

Yes, the demonic behaviour of the fundamental Taliban is graphically shown. Women actors Sujaya Dasgupta and Amina Zia (top, above) portray with valiant honesty the inhumane violence meted out to them while Pal Aron elicits an iota of sympathy as the lead male who unleashes his fury and anxiety on  female members of his wartorn family.

But the plot is fractured. And with too many actors playing too many roles. I was confused at times. Also, the flashbacks and jagged structure made for an extra dollop of discontinuity. And, simply, there is too much expository dialogue to move the story forward. Director Roxanna Silbert, in her last production for The Rep, may have to shoulder responsibility for this judgement which led, I have to say, to members of the audience who had not read the book wondering just how the story ended.

But there is a lot of good theatre work nonetheless in this story.  Scenery is sparse if not austere, a Beckett type of nightmare,  to highlight the bad times. And Dave Price’s sound engineering is put to good use as the rocket and mortar shells roar in while the women steel themselves for  ugly abuse from the men around them. It’s on at The Rep’s main studio until 18th May.