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46

Amok Teatro’s “Kabul” is currently playing at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre on Morrison Street. It is hard to remain cheerful as I turn my back on the bustling streets of the city centre, to begin the long walk west. I feel like I am going into exile. Once you are on the Lothian road, people are plodding about, buying groceries or walking dogs, apparently ignorant of the Fringe’s existence. I regard them with immeasurable pity, like an American tourist amazed by a Somali village.

Yet the EICC is surprisingly busy. There are some celebrity stand-up comedians playing here and only a venue of this size can contain the crowds. It is the sort of place where the G8 would meet to discuss global poverty. The interior is spacious and pristine; there are lots of staff standing sentry in designated positions, not for any practical reason, but more as a display of this organisation’s power. At the bar, they don’t sell any beer, but there are a few artificial substitutes available and, in the spirit of compromise, I agree to buy a Deuchars. After paying £4.60, I need a stand-up comedian to cheer me up again.

Downstairs the venue gets vaster and more pristine. There is an enormous bar which is dedicated to serving only Champaign. The theatre is huge and yet intimate. The audience of about a dozen sit at the foot of the stage and peep out over its expansiveness.

Ana Teixeira and Stephane Brodt’s “Kabul” is set in the titular city in 1997: those carefree, pastoral days when Afghanistan was as yet untroubled by military invasion and civil war. The set looks rather like the Flintstones without the dinosaurs. The characters are utterly impoverished, and they can only converse in the bare dialogue of people who are unfamiliar with anything other than the most rudimentary culture and technology. Their lives are essentially one long bored ache. For this reason, “Kabul” is an inevitably physical play. Rather than listen to the characters chatter about the price of grain, we watch them washing and cooking and preparing for bed.

I say “listen” but I had to read this play. Cultural sophisticate that I am, I was at least half an hour into “Kabul” before I realised that the oriental language spoken on stage was in fact Spanish. Amok are a Brazilian theatre company.

The documentary interest of “Kabul” is negated by its refusal to grant us any means of empathising with the Taliban’s supporters. It is a play about villainy but without any real villains. The state jailer Tariq (Stephane Brodt) just puts up with his offstage Taliban masters. Madji (Marcus Pina/ Bruce Araujo) reckons that he was possessed whilst he was stoning a woman to death, and although this is a likely story, we cannot apprehend the psychological reality behind it.

A point in this play’s favour is that it always sounds incredible, not least because all of the cast know how to exploit the venue’s acoustics. A very calm looking man sits surrounded by an assortment of Central Asian instruments, and he turns out to be a formidable multi-instrumentalist. The santoor is a considerable curiosity and the daf solo was simply magnificent. “Kabul” is worth seeing, so to speak, for the music alone.

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