An uncompromising voice reads out the Taliban’s manifesto and we are reminded that, from 1996-2001, women in Kabul were not allowed to seek any form of medical support when sick; laughter in public places was prohibited; wives guilty of committing adultery would be stoned to death; all men must grow out their beards or face imprisonment and music, theatre and literature were not permitted to be read or performed in any capacity.
Focusing on the life of two married couples, the play interchanges between each of their homes and explores to what extent love, affection and mutual respect between a man and woman to exist under Taliban regime. The opening scene shows Tariq, a prison jailer, his leg severely injured by an explosion, chanting through the streets on his way home and Maryam, his wife, collecting water and struggling to remain composed beneath the heat of her burqa. We quickly learn that she is suffering from a terminal illness and has little hope of living much longer. Their interaction with one another is tense, permeated with nervous pauses, yet somehow we can see through the veil of their torment and almost glimpse the love they felt before the politics of 90’s Afghanistan altered.
Switch to Madji and Zunaira, a younger married couple, trying to retain a sense of their happiness in spite of immense financial difficulties and the recent loss of their home. Initially I felt as if the language of the play was perhaps slightly too didactic in its attempt to educate the audience and depict the social landscape. Needless to say, this in itself is an admirable objective but subsequently the dialogue runs the risk of seeming a tad unnatural and contrived. Luckily, however, as the play develops this criticism is no longer applicable. Both marital relationships become personal meditations between two peoples as opposed to generalised portrayals.
The two separate narratives collide once we realise that the lives of Maryam and Zunaira are connected. This revelation enriches the drama of the piece and instils the final moments of the play with a sense of tender poignancy and quiet despair.