A Thousand Splendid Suns is the story of two women’s fight for freedom set in the heart of Afghanistan. Written by author Khaled Hosseini who is well known for his international bestselling novel The Kite Runner, it’s a moving yet treacherous tale.
Born in Afghanistan then growing up in the USA, Khaled returned to his birthplace 30 years later and was astounded by the distressing state of the country. He wrote this story to reflect the people he met and to shine a light on the hardship women are having to suffer through.
Adapted for the stage by Ursula Rani Sarma, we are taken through the lives of two women that are thrown together through circumstance and grow up in one of the most dangerous places to be a woman. Mariam and Laila are both wives of Rasheed. Mariam has been married to Rasheed since she was fifteen, but as she was unable to have children he also married young Laila. It’s a heart-aching story as they suffer immensely being married to a man incredibly controlling and abusive. We span many years of their lives as they grow old and navigate a way to finally escape him.
It’s a harrowing production that opens your eyes to the harsh conditions these women are living in. As the Taliban take control over the country, their freedom soon diminishes into nothing as the become fearful for their lives. It’s a gripping story told in a absorbing way by a truly superb cast. Sujaya Dasgupta is excellent as Laila, who we meet as a young girl that develops gracefully into a strong woman who is desperately fighting for a better life for her family. The character development is strong and as an audience we really connect with her, feeling every ounce of pain she is hit with throughout her journey.
Pal Aron gives a masterclass performance as Rasheed, as he really convinces the audience he is a kind and caring man until the power gets to his head. The way he instantly switches from being likable to unlikable is clever as he manipulates the audience along with his wives. He puts up a front, but deep down we see inside his evil nature. He mistreats his wife Mariam from the start and it isn’t until his aggression gets out of hand do we really start to attach to her as a character. Amina Zia depicts the character exceptionally as she becomes the pillar of strength and guidance for Laila.
Having not read the book I probably wasn’t quite prepared with how intense this show and its narrative are, but it’s a thought-provoking watch that really highlights the reality of the atrocities in that part of the world. It is a compelling piece of theatre that was really felt through the whole audience.
The way Director Roxana Silbert manages to grip the audience and form a connection between them and the characters so tightly is remarkable. This was proved in the moment when Laila and Mariam finally stand up for themselves against Rasheed and everyone erupted into applause. It’s one of the most animated audiences I’ve ever experienced. Whilst you could hear a pin drop because everyone was listening so intently, the gasps and audible reactions were astounding, as everyone in that auditorium was fighting for these women.
A Thousand Splendid Suns is extraordinarily crafted storytelling that captures a tough yet important subject in a completely potent way.
On at Birmingham Rep until 18 May before continuing on tour across the UK.