BWW Review: A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS, Northern Stage, Newcastle
A Thousand Splendid Suns has been adapted for the stage by Ursula Rani Sarma from the 2007 novel by Khaled Hosseini. First staged in the US in 2017, this tour is the European debut for the play.
When Laila (Sujaya Dasgupta) is fifteen years old, a shell lands on her home and her parents do not survive the blast. A neighbouring couple, Mariam (Amina Zia) and Rasheem (Pal Aron) take her in and nurse Laila back to health. Shortly after, Rasheem decides that it would be improper to live like this and declares that he would like Laila to be his second wife.
This story spans generations and we flip between Mariam's childhood as an illegitimate child, the dynamic building between the two wives and their husband and Laila's relationship growing up with her friend Tariq- her first love. Although several actors have multiple roles and the time period changes throughout, Roxana Silbert's direction is so excellent that it is never unclear or confusing.
A Thousand Splendid Suns takes an unflinching look at the way women have been treated in Afghanistan. The story takes place before and after the Taliban come to power and while women were still seen as inferior to men beforehand, they were still able to work. The domestic violence within the household is an uncomfortable but necessary watch. While outstanding performances are given by all, it is the two women in particular who really stand out as both Dasgupta and Zia display the unwavering strength of their characters throughout.
A Thousand Splendid Suns is so beautifully written it doesn't require an elaborate set. Ana Ines Jabares-Pita's design is gorgeous and with Simon Bond's subtle lighting changes it reflects the beauty of Kabul and the ugliness of the relationship between Laila, Rasheem and Mariam.
I adore the novel and this production exceeded all of my expectations. While I find myself horrified to hear a beloved book is being turned into a film, I'm nearly always thrilled to learn it will be staged as a play as it tends to stay true to the original text. A Thousand Splendid Suns is no exception- both heartbreaking and uplifting, this is storytelling at its very best.
A Thousand Splendid Suns is at Northern Stage until 6 June