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Review Round-up: Critics Enjoy Great Afghan Cycle

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The Tricycle Theatre's epic cycle The Great Game: Afghanistan opened to critics last week (24 April, previews from 17 April), with the entire eight-hour series of 12 plays being presented over the course of the day.

Covering nearly 200 years of Afghanistan's history, The Great Game is described by artistic director Nicolas Kent (who co-directs the season with Indhu Rubasingham) as “the most comprehensive over-view of Afghanistan’s history, culture and politics ever attempted in Britain”.

Playwrights including Richard Bean, David Edgar, Abi Morgan, David Greig and Simon Stephens have contributed half-hour plays to the season, which is divided into three sections covering the years 1842 through to the present day (See News, 20 Feb 2009).

The acting ensemble comprises Sagar Arya, Daniel Betts, Paul Bhattacharjee, Lolita Chakrabarti, Michael Cochrane, Vincent Ebrahim, Nabil Elouahabi, Tom McKay, Danny Rahim, Jemma Redgrave, Jemima Rooper, Hugh Skinner, Ramon Tikaram and Rick Warden. It continues at the Tricycle to 14 June, with full cycles on Saturday and Sunday and individual sections on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.

Among the critics it was difficult to find a dissenter, as most plumped for a four star rating and agreed that, in the words of Whatsonstage.com's Michael Coveney, the cycle has already taken its place as “one of the major highlights of the year”. Among the 12 plays, the Daily Telegraph's Charles Spencer could spot “only a couple of duds”, while the “fantastic” multi-tasking acting company seemingly contained none. All told, a very Great Game indeed.

  • Michael Coveney on Whatsonstage.com (four stars) - “What sounded like a daunting proposition - an all-day epic of twelve short plays about the history of, and continuing political crisis in, Afghanistan - turns out to be one of the major highlights of the year … The show suggests there are hopes for progress under President Obama. We shall see. But don’t miss this dramatic, often poetic, intervention in what is clearly a necessary war.”

  • Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph
  • (four stars) - “The quality of the writing, and the painstaking nature of the research are palpable throughout, with only a couple of duds among the dozen main plays, while the programme provides a superb briefing on the history of Afghanistan and keeps you up to speed as the plays and the decades roll by … Directed with precision and clarity by Nicolas Kent and Indhu Rubasingham and superbly acted by a company that includes Jemma Redgrave and the superb Paul Bhattacharjee, this is a challenging theatrical marathon of notable intelligence, insight, ambition and achievement.”

  • Dominic Maxwell in The Times
  • (four stars) - “As you might expect from such an information-heavy exercise, the drama doesn’t always soar. There are agitprop moments, especially in the 1842-1930 set. The Afghans have the wry wisdom and sense of history of a 21st-century playwright. Even here, the staging by Kent and Indhu Rubasingham is precise yet strong … There’s not that much here that’s so good you’d want to see it out of context. But then you don’t need to. The amount of information you receive, gladly, over the eight hours of The Great Game makes it much more than the sum of its parts. It could be shorter and more varied but its scope is unparallelled. It’s a fine achievement.”

  • Michael Billington in Guardian
  • (four stars) - “The Great Game, jointly directed by Nicolas Kent and Indhu Rubasingham assisted by Rachel Grunwald, offers no solutions. But it gives us an historical context in which to discuss the issues … It is up to each individual to decide whether they feel Nato forces should stay or go. But these plays give us the chance to make an informed judgment. And I can only salute the entire cast … and the design of Pamela Howard and Miriam Nabarro. Something remarkable is happening at the Tricycle, where Afghan history and culture are being made manifest in a uniquely challenging, theatrically exciting way.”

  • Fiona Mountford in the Evening Standard
  • (four stars) - “The cumulative impact, as we trace recurring patterns of interference from foreign powers, religious extremism, the opium trade and conflicts between intractable tribal chiefs, is immense … The terrific acting ensemble never flags, directors Kent and Indhu Rubasingham continue to imbue each piece with fierce, coherent life and, most movingly of all, Pamela Howard’s beautiful painted mural backdrop is whitewashed by Taliban henchmen then collapses to give way to an uninterrupted vista of poppy fields.”

    - by Theo Bosanquet & Rhian Owen


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