Thursday, 27 June 2019

THEATRE REVIEW: A Thousand Splendid Suns - The Nuffield Southampton Theatres, Southampton.


This evening’s performance of 'A thousand Splendid Suns' based on the novel written by Khaled Hosseini and adapted for the stage by Ursula Rani Sarma was a beautiful and moving story exploring 3 generations of women discovering their strength in unity. This story of hope and courage in a world of increasing danger and threat imposed by the Taliban’s misogynistic rule is a profound emblem of human spirit and hardship. The story follows Leila, played by Suiaya Dasgupta, who is orphaned during a bomb explosion and taken in by Rasheed who weds her later that year as his second wife. We then follow their journey together, illustrating the impact of the Islamic state and the Taliban on the lives of Muslim women. Dasgupta’s performance encapsulated the harrowing life and pain that is all too real for women living in the middle east and Afghanistan for the last 40 years.

The array of colour used in this production was breathtaking and created a glimpse of beauty in a story of poverty and war. The Arabian style headscarves and dresses were blues, greens and pinks and they separated the women from the men. The costumes which I found most striking were the full body burkas worn in the second half of the play as they gave a beautiful elusion of blindness and vulnerability. This was reinforced when the audience was made aware through the narrative that after the Taliban seized Kabul in 1996 women were no longer allowed to work, attend school or leave the house without the company of a male relative. This created a sense of fear and desperation for Leila as she could not provide for her son and daughter and had to simply watch them waste away until finally Aziza, her elder child, was put into care. When Leila is giving birth to her second child, Zalamai, her baby is breach and, since she is denied hospital care because of her gender, two women are forced to rip open her womb without any anaesthetic in order to birth her son. In this moment the midwife cries, “I will not wear my burka when working” and it is a beautiful and touching moment of strength and courage. I felt warmth in her words and was overcome by admiration.

The set consisted of three levels of stone and rocks with Aztec print tapestry up stage. The use of lighting illustrated night and day and expressed the heat of the country. The use of smoke machines also created a profound ambiguity and sense of ‘unknown”. The basic and minimalistic use of props embodied the sense of poverty. Sound effects were used to create the sound of machine guns and bombs. This was invasive creating a believable and utterly terrifying performance. The simplicity also allowed for ease of location changes and also reinforced the lack of hope of change or escape. The use of ‘magic’ was effective in this piece in ‘disappearing’ characters. One of the most consuming images was watching Rasheed whipping his first wife, Mariam as she steps out of her burka and watches and he whips the back bone of her empty body. Her pain is unbearable to watch, but, her resilience and power to continue is admirable and consuming. Both Sujaya Dasgupta and Ana Ines Jabares- Pita embodied the character’s experiences displaying ranging emotions. They display hope and strength in the deepest darkness and pain.

This play is a symbol of change and is executed with grace and strength. Their story is critical in providing future change and I hope it is a message that is told and retold until we see equal rights across the world for all women.

Reviewer - Grace McNicholas
on - 26/6/19

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