An Afghan Adaptation

Playwright Dave Duggan finds a new audience in Afghanistan's Bamiyan Valley

The prisoner is detained because of his religion. His hands are tied with red wire, his face concealed behind a mask. Around him are scattered chunks of bloody meat. The voices of the dead relate to him their final, agonising moments at the hands of his aggressors, and plead for revenge.

This could be anywhere, any time. 40 years ago it was Northern Ireland, and the voices of the dead were the voices of those killed during Bloody Sunday. Today it’s Afghanistan, the Bamiyan valley. The hooded man is a Bamiyan Buddhist, and his unseen captor is the Taleban.

AH 7808What was once AH 6905 has become AH 7808. Derry playwright Dave Duggan's one-man play about the legacy of violence on the future of war-torn Northern Ireland (first produced by Sole Purpose Productions and directed by Duggan at The Playhouse Theatre in Derry in 2005) has been adapted and produced for an Afghan audience, with rapturous results. 

First shown to an audience of 100 (the play is currently touring the country), the open-air Afghan production took place against the backdrop of the Bamiyan valley, itself an all too visible reminder of the Afghan-Soviet war. 

In the background, where once a series of ancient Buddhist stone sculptures once stood, huge craters scar the landscape - the result of the Taleban explosions that wiped the 'anti-Islamic' icons from the face of the earth. 

AH 7808 focuses on the war crimes inflicted on religious minorities in Afghanistan by the Islamic fundamentalist Taleban in the 1990s, and the potential for a truth commission in the aftermath of the war.

Duggan recalls how the adaptation came about.

'I was emailed a couple of years ago by a man named Hjalmar in Kabul with queries about theatre-making and conflict. The email contact developed and Hjalmar expressed a strong interest in my play. 

AH 6905 is about Danny, who we meet in the waiting room of a hospital on the night before he The Bamiyan Valleyundergoes a major operation. He is set to have the truth cut out of him tomorrow and is not sure he should go ahead with it. In the course of the visit he undergoes 'possession' by ghosts of the dead from the conflict, who reveal their demands for truth through him.

'Hjalmar particularly liked this play and felt it was relevant to cultural work he was doing in Afghanistan in the context of the legacy of long years of conflict there. After a further period of contact and negotiation I assigned the rights to him to adapt the play into Dari and Pashtun for production and touring in Afghanistan.

'It was decided by Hjalmar and his colleagues to do it in two of the most common languages in the country and to take it on tour across a number of cities and regions.' 

Supported by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, AH 7808 explores the same themes of the original, but replaces sectarian Northern Ireland with an Afghanistan in the grips of a bloody religious genocide.

'The main theme of the play is the challenge of truth recovery in a society with a legacy of conflict and the benefits and problems of the various possible ways of undertaking such recovery,' explains Duggan. 

'[In the original] Danny explores what will happen to him, and thus to us, if we do undergo a truth recovery process. And if we don't.'

Dave DugganAH 6905 has recently been published by Guildhall Press. Plays in a Peace Process brings together seven of Duggan's plays (including AH 6905, Waiting, and The Shopper and the Boy), and three sketches written in response to the peace process in Northern Ireland between the years 1994 and 2007. 

Reports from the AIHRC in Afghanistan suggest that audiences - many of whom are illiterate and newcomers to the medium of theatre - have been deeply affected by the production thus far. Duggan is thrilled with the success of the adaptation. 

'As far as I can make out the response in Afghanistan has been excellent. It feels very good to see that the play is in production in another country after it enjoyed a successful tour here in 2005-2006, including at the Dublin Fringe. 

'I look forward to getting a full report from Hjalmar, but to date it seems to be doing what he and I hoped it might do - provide a piece of theatre on a matter of real interest to the local audience.'

Plays in a Peace Process is available from the Guildhall Press website.

Lee Henry