BWW Review: A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS, Nuffield Southampton Theatres
More than a decade after Khaled Hosseini's best-selling novel was published, the same much-adored story has taken to the stage.
A Thousand Splendid Suns is a tale that sticks with you long after it ends, spanning the lives of three generations of women in Afghanistan. Written by Ursula Rani Sarma, and directed by Roxana Silbert, this adaptation is a co-production between Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Northern Stage and Nuffield Southampton Theatres (NST), and is concluding its UK national tour in Southampton.
In 1992, Laila is orphaned by war. She is taken in by neighbour Rasheed and becomes his second wife. His first wife, Mariam, is outraged; but, over time, the two women unite as the Taliban takes control of their lives and changes everything.
As the plot progresses, it's easy to forget that you are watching a play. It may be slightly cliche, but each character truly comes to life on stage. The performances are all superb and extremely heartfelt, thanks to an impressive and passionate cast.
Sujaya Dasgupta gives a fantastic performance as Laila. She grows from girl to woman seamlessly and visibly gains strength in the face of adversity as the years pass in mere minutes.
Pal Aron's Rasheed transforms from Laila's supposed saviour and protector to the very thing that may eventually kill her. He is charming to begin with, but his volatility is so believable you become genuinely fearful for the safety of the women in his life.
Amina Zia is also excellent as Mariam. She is guarded and hardened by her own losses and grief, but her gradual softening, and acceptance and love for Laila and her family is wonderful to watch.
This reworking focuses on this central relationship between Laila and Mariam, which really is one of the highlights of the entire production and is beautifully performed. There is a palpable bond between the two of them.
These more tender moments contrast with more difficult scenes of violence, abuse and miscarriage, which are skillfully and sensitively performed.
The richness of this production is only enhanced by the staging lighting and design thanks to Ana Inés Jabares-Pita (designer), Simon Bond (lighting designer), Mahmood Kamen (co-composer) and Dave Price (co-composer and sound designer). The simple, undulating landscape offers a clever canvas for this story, and the costuming and sound is a wonderful celebration of culture and emotion, too.
There's also an element of mystery and magic throughout the production. Subtle effects and illusions add to the spiritual and ethereal feel, and are an elegant and effective method for portraying lingering memories.
A Thousand Splendid Suns is more than a story about the Taliban and conflict. This is a tale of love, strength and real relationships that translates and resonates across cultures, languages and generations.
It is also an enduring story. With conflict and displacement continuing to be major global issues today, A Thousand Splendid Suns is, sadly, still relevant in that respect, highlighting the stories and people behind the sensationalist headlines and the label of 'refugee'.
A Thousand Splendid Suns is a slow burner of a production; a combination of powerful moments that tug at the heartstrings, and well-paced, fluid and subtle storytelling.
This show somewhat lacks the intensity and heat of a thousand suns, but it does not by any means disappoint. It is a rich, compassionate exploration of female strength and resilience, with a cast which truly charms.
Photo credit: Pamela Raith Photography