“Don’t you think people want a bit of fun?” the perma-smiling TV talent show host asks Samira, the dissident finalist in Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s new large-scale play for the National Youth Theatre. In Afghanistan, however, the stakes are higher in a complex look at how young people define themselves in an already fractured landscape. Taking its cue from Slumdog Millionaire, Lenkiewicz uses mainstream popular culture as a way of telling an utterly serious if at times overloaded story of love, anger and dreams of leaving a world where misogyny is accepted almost as much as the landmines are taken for granted.
All the girls are glued to Afghan Star, a glossy X-Factor style show, where Samira’s voice refuses to stay quiet. One of them, Parastoo, has a crush on urchin boy Mahmoud, who has ambition that don’t turn out quite as planned. Parastoo’s mother was the country’s first female crane driver, but now can only mourn her dead children. Meanwhile on the small screen, Samira may not win her battle, but her war for a much bigger emancipation has only just begun.
This is pretty strong stuff in Juliet Knight’s production, which criss-crosses each strand of the story aided by Daniel Padden’s evocative eastern-tinged soundtrack, punctuating things with some spellbinding live harmonies sung by an assured cast of fifteen. As Mahmoud, Haseeb Malik makes a determined but vulnerable figure sweeping through Neil Haynes’ open-plan set where a chorus of angels watches over him. If there is one too many narrative strand, it only shows off the confused rough and tumble of staying alive in a country where at times the war is possibly the least of it.
The Herald, September 24th 2010