The Grand Theatre’s production of ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ at the Spriet Stage is hauntingly enchanting. Though hard to watch, the story is thoroughly compelling, detailing the lives of three women of different generations and their experience in Afghanistan after the Soviet occupation. Based on the book of the same name by Khaled Hosseini, the story follows fifteen-year-old Laila (Mirian Katrib) after the death of her parents from a bombing in the city. Her neighbours, Rasheed (Anousha Alamian) and Mariam (Deena Aziz) take her in and for her safety she is forced to become the second wife of Rasheed, much to the discomfort of Mariam. Laila quickly learns of her new husband’s abusive actions and the repressive rules from both Rasheed and the changing Afghan regimes.
The cast handles difficult content gracefully and with care, making sure to properly represent a society and culture in a way that does not fall into stereotypes or become unfaithful to the book. The production shows the reality of paternalistic laws in a patriarchal society. As Mariam accurately explains in the second act, “this country has declared war on women.”
Although the history shapes the narrative, it takes a backseat to the heroic friendship and love that drives Laila and Mariam. Through the framework of the unstable government and civil wars, the beautiful and heartbreaking story of Laila and Mariam unfolds. Differing from the book, the play does not begin with Mariam’s childhood, but instead tells her story to Laila through a chilling flashback of her young life as an illegitimate child.
The actors brought Hosseini’s characters to life magically, bringing dimension and physicality to each personality. Katrib and Aziz are stunning in their roles; they demonstrate the importance of familial love as a source of strength through difficult and uncertain times. The story demonstrates a series of hard decisions the women must make in order to survive and take care of their families; they must think like mothers. In a final act of love and bravery, Mariam sacrifices herself for the safety of Laila, evoking a strong sympathetic response from the audience. By the end of the play the audience has come to feel strongly for these women, as the situations presented help the audience to understand their choices and experiences.
As the show begins, the first thing the audience notices about ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ is the rich use of colours. Through deep purples and brilliant oranges, lighting designer Robert Wierzel uses the colours of the set to mirror the scenes as a sort of pathetic fallacy. The dreams and flashbacks from Laila are accompanied by a deep purple. Purple matches scenes of Laila’s lost love Tariq (Shelly Antony) and time spent with her parents. A faded yellow is cast on the set as she endures the traumas of her life. Moments of pain and death are reflected in the lighting, between brilliant flashes of white during bombings and the rushed birth of Laila’s son, to the reflection of shadows on the wall during violent sequences. The show ends as the lights fade from turquoise to orange to a deep purple, leaving only silhouettes walking across the stage.
What the audience notices next is the eerily beautiful music, composed by David Coulter. Between the whistling of bombs, the high pitch music gives an u
neasy feeling to Rasheed’s house and his wedding to Laila. The sound and coloured lighting emphasize the eerie nature of the play’s events, and underline sinister intentions.
Although it is hard to watch the relentless hardship of this family, the new perspective this show brings opens an incredibly important conversation. By authentically representing a culture and historical moment on stage, audience members gain a new perspective that gives them a better understanding of the situation. ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ is hauntingly brought to life, bringing a magical story to the stage.
‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ is run nightly at the Grand Theatre from March 13th to March 31st. More information can be found through The Grand Theatre.