DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

The Kite Runner – Newcastle Theatre Royal

Reviewer: Colleen Hall

Writer: Khaled Hosseini

Adaptor: Matthew Spangler

Director: Giles Croft

It is perhaps a cliché to laud the enduring pertinence of a play like The Kite Runner, a deeply interpersonal story about family, friendship and redemption set in Afghanistan during an era of increasing unrest in the latter part of the twentieth century. With the current state of affairs in Afghanistan, however, and the polarising politics around refugees from the war-torn Middle East, the continued relevance of this story’s setting cannot be ignored. That said, where Giles Croft’s production of The Kite Runner succeeds most is in its focus on the tight-knit human relationships at its core.

The audience is greeted with a fairly bare stage, save for the sloping ship-like deck occupying most of the space. Though these levels are a little underutilised, Barney George’s simple set design belies the sheer variety of technical elements that go on to enliven the play, with wing-like kite sails that descend into view intermittently, numerous projections of patterns, backdrops and shadow effects mapped onto them. The most effective, and arguably simplest, technical aspect of the production, however, is its use of live music. Musical Director Jonathan Girling utilises the impressive skills of tabla (Indian drums) player Hanif Khan to accompany the action onstage. This atmospheric drumming hooks the audience from the very opening of the play and underscores and punctuates the story so effectively that it is easy to forget Khan’s physical presence onstage. It is a welcome moment, then, when he is integrated more directly into a wedding scene in the second act. The drumming is accompanied by droning singing bowls and the clever use of Schwirrbogen (resembling wooden football rattles) in the kite-flying scenes – you can almost feel the wind off them as they spin.

Stuart Vincent is a convincing lead and engaging storyteller as Amir, a skill that is crucial for this kind of role. In a very different way, Yazdan Qafouri as the self-effacing but fiercely loyal Hassan, really lit up the stage and did much of the heavy lifting when it came to the pathos in the play. Interestingly, the complex beauty of their childhood friendship shone most vibrantly in an early scene in which they communicate only in Pashto. Dean Rehman was refreshing to watch as Baba, bringing a great deal of nuance and charisma to a father role that is often played stereotypically. The depictions of the characters’ childhood selves, however, were often jarringly exaggerated, stepping a little too far over the line of childlike enthusiasm into comic territory. This is all well and good during humorous moments, but proved distracting in the far darker scenes featuring the almost pantomimesque villain Assef (Bhavin Bhatt). There is something to be said for the problematic queering of this irredeemable villain, but this fault lies squarely in the original 2003 novel; more nuance would have perhaps avoided this damaging stereotype. Overall, though, a strong ensemble cast supports a story that focuses mainly on three or four key characters.

Adapting a novel to the stage always comes with the awkward question of exposition. As with most adaptations, Matthew Spangler solves this problem, rather predictably, with narration from its lead. This is mostly effective, but sometimes forgets the show and not tell, with long, static outpourings of Amir’s internal conflict and explicit call-backs to earlier moments, instead of allowing the audience to join the dots on their own. Khaled Hosseini’s story is itself full of well-worn tropes, but this play succeeds in adapting a deeply human, relatable and dramatic novel into an engaging couple of hours at the theatre.

Runs until 29th June 2024.

The Reviews Hub Score

Pertinent and Engaging

Show More
Photo of The Reviews Hub - Yorkshire & North East

The Reviews Hub - Yorkshire & North East

The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button
The Reviews Hub