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  • Writer's pictureAlex First

Selling Kabul at Red Stitch Theatre - 100 minutes, without interval

We are in Kabul, Afghanistan in 2013, as the US troops are starting a major withdrawal from the country.

Taroon (Khisraw Jones-Shukoor) is in hiding from the Taliban.

He’s been targeted after working as an interpreter for the American military.

Effectively caged for four months, he dare not set foot outside his sister Afiya’s (Nicole Nabout) small apartment.

Photos by Jodie Hutchinson

He has his heart set on a US visa, which he’s been promised by one of the Americans he worked with – who he considers a friend – and is now back in the States.

Mind you, there is no sign that that visa is going to be forthcoming any time soon, if at all.

Afiya has returned from visiting the hospital, where Taroon’s beloved wife Bibi has just given birth to a baby boy a fortnight earlier than expected.

Taroon – who hasn’t seen Bibi since seeking refuge with his sister – is overjoyed and makes plans to visit her and their son that night disguised as a woman in a burqa.

His sister implores him not too, as it isn’t safe.

She’s found it difficult enough to keep Taroon’s presence a secret from her childhood friend and suspicious neighbour Leyla (Claudia Greenstone).

But after Afiya’s husband Jawid (Farhad Zaiwala) arrives home, the situation becomes much more dire and time is of the essence.

Selling Kabul was a 2022 Pulitzer Prize finalist for Sylvia Khoury, a New York-born writer of French and Lebanese descent.

Tension-filled, the play tells a gripping story that feels stretched.

It could readily have been cut back by at least 10 minutes, probably 20, and its impact would have been greater.

I felt it was overwritten, especially in the establishing scenes.

Further, in Red Stitch’s production of the work – directed by Brett Cousins – there were several noticeable and awkward gaps in conversation between brother and sister early on, which appeared clunky.

The best of the performances was Farhad Zaiwala, who brought authenticity and restraint to his role as Afiya’s husband and Taroon’s brother-in-law.

As much as I’d like to, I can’t say the same about the remaining trio.

A dramatic script, such as that which Khoury has crafted, doesn’t need to be pushed.

The words are enough and the actors need to adopt a less is more approach.

In this case, the three didn’t and unfortunately that resulted in melodrama, which was not appropriate to the material.

I was looking for something “real”, where I was so caught up in what I was seeing that I believed the actors were the characters they were playing, but I’m afraid I didn’t feel that way.

Backing off would undoubtedly help their cause.

I was suitably impressed though by the set that Sophie Woodward has managed to create in such a small space.

Featuring a kitchen and living area, a front door and another door, which presumably leads to a bedroom, the styling immediately transports you to Afghanistan.

To summarise then, while Selling Kabul’s subject matter is illuminating and pushes hot buttons, its execution could be improved.

Still, it remains a play that is worth catching.

It is playing at Red Stitch Theatre in St Kilda until 21st May, 2021.


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