Writer: Khaled Hosseini
Adapter: Matthew Spangler
Director: Giles Croft
Reviewer: Charlie Senate
After hours relentlessly watching the sky; drafting and looping his yellow-trimmed kite amongst numberless others; dodging and feinting, setting clever traps; yanking hard on the glass-laced kite string to cut an opponent’s kite free; his Baba, normally so disapproving, cheering him on—it has come down to this, the final two: Amir versus the blue kite. With the aid of a sudden gust, he positions his kite above his rival’s—and with one last, biting tug, he cuts its string. The crowd roars its approval, and so does his father. Amir’s best friend (and Kabul’s most talented kite runner), Hassan, dashes off to retrieve the blue kite as a prize for his friend. Amir, exultant in victory, declares that even though his hands have been bloodied by the kite string, he doesn’t care.
Based on the 2003 novel of the same name, and further popularised by the 2007 film, The Kite Runner tells the story of two boyhood friends—joined by blood, but separated by class—in 1970s Afghanistan, a country on the razor’s edge of violent upheaval. Both novel and film convey the story’s harrowing events with pace and sensibility, and never allow its most tormenting character, Afghanistan itself, to leave centre stage. But, a play is a very different thing—and this one is nearly smothered by the weight of its own exposition.
In the early 1970s, a time of relative peace in the nation, Amir, the Pashtun son of a wealthy businessman, and Hassan, the household’s lowly Hazara servant-boy, enjoy an almost familial bond. Raised together from infancy—in fact, Hassan’s first word was “Amir”, as Amir himself happily brags—the pair are inseparable. But, it is not a relationship of equals. As a member of the ruling class—and as a selfish and cowardly child—Amir indirectly, perhaps unconsciously, lords over his friend, making a game of Hassan’s illiteracy and generally taking advantage of his loyalty. But, when a brutal act of violence exposes Amir for what he is and forever severs that innocent bond, it is Amir who becomes subjugated by his own guilt. That same guilt, many years later, is what drives a long-expatriated Amir to return to his war-torn fatherland in search of redemption.
Jo Ben Ayed’s portrayal of the steadfast Hassan is thoroughly childlike, rendering his eventual victimization all the more moving. Soroosh Lavasini’s Assef is so convincingly sadistic that his very presence on stage in other scenes, as a silent member of the ensemble, is enough to unsettle and distract. Karl Seth as Rahim Khan is also admirable; he brings a sense of strength and integrity to the role—not to mention his enjoyable turn as an American oncologist—and does much in a few scenes to drive the story forward. And, Raj Ghatak must too be commended; for his performance, of course, but also for the sheer feat of memorisation involved in learning so many lines.
And, this, really, is the problem. Matthew Spangler’s’ adaption relies so consistently, so completely, on Amir’s narration, that the story is reduced to a chronological summation of events, delivered almost wholly in spotlight at front-centre, and best of its dramatic and emotional potential is swallowed in the shadow cast behind. The best of the play unfolds in the action between characters on stage—that is where its tension is felt, and wherein it is most affecting. But, too often, that action is interrupted in favor of bland exposition. This herky-jerky approach to storytelling drains this production of much of its power. And, given that this is Afghanistan, a country beset by Soviet invasion and bloody Taliban rule, whose bigoted and theo-phobic anxieties have led to decades of sorrow—well, suffice it to say that, despite all the commentary, there is more historical context to be had in the playbill than in the play itself.
Hanif Khan, a tabla player, who remains on stage throughout the performance, provides a near-continuous rhythmic backdrop, which goes a long way toward enlivening the narration. And, the story still packs an emotional punch from time to time—it is still a very good story. But, this production of The Kite Runner often also feels a little stunted and listless.
Runs until: 3 March 2018 | Image: Contributed