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KHALED HOSSEINI’S 2007 bestselling novel is a powerful story that follows the fortunes of two indomitable Afghan women over three decades.
Forced together by circumstances, their increasingly dependent relationship, set against the harrowing disintegration of Kabul under Taliban rule, is suffused with the sense of daily Afghan life.
Unfortunately, this production sacrifices most of the texture and sensory elements of the novel for mere narrative. Traditional costumes, cursory dances, recorded Afghan music and patrolling Taliban militia are no replacement for how the book submerges the reader into another world.
Ursula Rani Sarma’s adaptation concentrates on plot and it’s a lengthy narrative synopsis rather than an effective theatrical creation, with the dialogue somewhat wooden and lacking emotional inflection or development.
The fault also lies with designer Ana Ines Jabares-Pita and director Roxana Silbert. Plastic and constructed from visible sections, the earthy-brown tiered set is akin to a child’s toy with the actors moving up and down steps and banks in repetitive figures of eight.
Locked in a naturalistic script with only the odd flashback to provide historic contextal, Silbert’s direction does little to vary the pace or emotional intensity.
Surviving an abusive relationship, Sujaya Dasgupta’s Laila and Amina Zia’s Mariam endure but neither age nor wilt.
The traumatic events they undergo lack real conviction, while the brief stylisations are theatrically underwhelming.
The ultimate indictment is an audience response more in keeping with a children’s show. An audible gasp accompanies the deception of Laila into marriage by Pal Aron’s Rasheed, while a hearty round of applause follows his death at the hands of his long-suffering first wife Mariam.
Though well-intentioned, this production is physically and creatively under-resourced and in consequence the intensity, depth and emotional richness of the novel is lost.
Runs until May 18, box office birmingham-rep.co.uk and then tours.
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