DramaReviewSouth West

The Kite Runner – Northcott Theatre, Exeter

Novel: Khaled Hosseini

Stage adaptation: Matthew Spangler

Director: Giles Croft

Reviewer: Swati Arora

A grand narrative about moving continents and inter-generational conflict comes alive in this visually stunning production of The Kite Runner. Amir, the narrator of his own tale, struggles to carry the burden of masculinity, as he tries in vain to make his Baba feel proud of him. “A boy who won’t stand up for himself becomes a man who won’t stand up for anything” is the motif that haunts the narrative throughout, as Amir bumbles along into adulthood, moves continents and finds love.

The story is set in the backdrop of 1970s Kabul, Afghanistan where the relatively stable political conditions under the monarch are on the verge of demise. Amir (David Ahmad) and Hassan (Jo Ben Ayed) are the best of friends, except that they cannot be. Separated by class and ethnicity – Amir is a Pashtun Sunni and is the son of a wealthy merchant, whereas Hassan is a Hazara belonging to the Shia community who works in Amir’s house – their friendship is marked by Amir’s insecurity and jealousy. As their tumultuous love for each other is tested multiple times, incited by the neighbourhood bully rather stereotypically portrayed in the character of Assef (Bhavin Bhatt), the turning point in their friendship occurs in 1975 when Amir refuses to rescue Hassan from sexual violence.

Based on the novel that is a bildungsroman (German for education), one is made to wonder if the psychological and moral growth of Amir shadows that of his affluent Baba, as Hassan is revealed to be Amir’s half-brother. If colonisation and invasion has ruined Afghanistan, so has the exploitative class structure of the country. Hassan was born when Amir’s Baba raped the wife of his servant Ali, played exquisitely by Ezra Faroque Khan.

Years later, as Amir is being accompanied to the orphanage where Hassan’s son Sohrab is staying, he feels like a tourist in his own country. When the driver enquires about his family background, Amir is told that ‘he was always a tourist’. Living a sheltered life in a wealthy household, Amir was never aware of the reality on the streets. The voice shifts between young and adult Amir do not work very well, though, and stretch his infantilisation a bit too far.

Kabul’s skyline transitions beautifully into San Francisco’s in the genius hands of Barney George who has designed the set, Charles Balfour who handles lights, William Simpson who does the beautiful projections and Drew Baumohl who weaves magic with his sound. The gorgeous tapestry projected on the two half kites suspended from the ceiling ornaments the indoor living room settings. The music composed by Jonathan Girling and executed by Hanif Khan on tabla and Tibetan bowls is a treat for the ears.

The performance, however, seems to be intended for a predominantly white audience, whose white gaze is explicitly catered to in the wedding scene between Amir and Soraya (Amiera Darwish). Soraya is the only one who has deserved the privilege of a name, as the two other women who appear on stage remain nameless and anonymous. The South Korean worker in the grocery store seems to have been reduced to a caricature and deployed for humour.

The Kite Runner had two acclaimed shows at West End in early 2017 and is currently on a UK tour that began at the Nottingham Playhouse in August. The opening night at the Exeter Northcott Theatre was received with a standing ovation, and the show is definitely a recommended watch for the sheer magnanimity and exuberance it brings to the theatre.

Runs until 25 November 2017 | Image: Contributed

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