Adapted by: Matthew Spangler
Director: Giles Croft
Adapter Matthew Spangler describes Khaled Hosseini’s novel, on which this play is based, as ‘a story about a father and son; a story about two best friends; a love story; a story about transnational immigration and refugees; a story about the relative peace in Afghanistan in the 1970s; global politics; class and ethnicity; and, above all a story of guilt and redemption’. With such a lot to take in, his view of the book’s historical canvas as being ‘naturally theatrical’ may not be an obvious conclusion, and the play suffers because of the scale of his ambition.
As with the novel, the play follows the life of Amir, a young boy in Afghanistan when the play begins. The adult Amir recounts his story with lengthy blocks of narrative interspersed with scenes from his life, are acted out with him playing himself. The first act centres around the relationship with his best friend Hassan, the son of his father’s servant.
The passion for kite running in Kabul in the 1970s acts as a backdrop to the friendship, until Hassan is assaulted and Amir fails to intervene and protect him. Amir’s guilt manifests itself in shame but to combat this he does all he can to get his father to find new servants rather than to admit what he failed to do.
The story is powerful as it explores the friendship between the two boys, Amir’s struggle to impress his father, who he refers to as Baba, his feeling that he never succeeds in this, and the hostility towards the Hazaras, that leads to the main incident in the act. Nevertheless, in spite of some excellent choreography by movement director Kitty Winter, Barney George’s simple but effective stage design, and evocative sound design by Drew Baumohi, the amount of narration still leaves you with the feeling that this could almost be a reading of the book at times.
In the longer second act, the focus shifts as the Russian invasion of Afghanistan leads to Amir and Baba fleeing the country and settling in San Francisco. Hassan disappears from the story, and the relationship between father and son, followed by son and wife as Amir marries, takes centre stage. The tension drops a notch or two from what it was before the interval, and there is a sense that the more compelling story is taking place in Afghanistan.
This is confirmed when Amir learns about Hassan’s life and has the chance to seek some form of redemption for the consequences of his previous silence. Combining the politics and the personal, and spanning the almost thirty year period that has passed since the play began, it leads to a rewarding conclusion that not only ties up any loose ends, but advances them, bringing a historical perspective to the earlier scenes and the present day.
Ultimately, the play suffers from trying to use too much of the book and not being selective in which of the many stories it chooses to tell. Amir does not appear particularly likeable. David Ahmad brings the character to life, but our sympathies lie with Jo Ben Ayed as Hassan, showing the loyalty and honour his wealthier friend cannot come close to matching. The narrative enhances the story at times, but contributes to a lack of depth at others, by allowing for a broad sweep approach at the expense of real exploration of the characters and relationship at the heart of the story.
Runs until 14 October 2017 then touring | Image: Contributed