Writer: Matthew Spangler
Director: Giles Croft
Boys can be merciless in their treatment of each other, the casual cruelty, physical punishments and sometimes even their fear can have a lasting impact. Khaled Hosseini’s novel The Kite Runner, adapted for the stage by Matthew Spangler, focuses on one terrible moment of indecision and betrayal that changed the lives of two best friends as class, religion and war send them in separate directions, both having to live with the consequences of their inaction.
Amir lives with his single father in 1970s’ Kabul in a nice house where servant Hassan is his best friend. The day of a kite flying competition proves significant as Hassan is confronted by local bullies and a terrible act of violence takes place which Amir sees but not does not prevent. Scared by his own feelings of guilt, Amir forces a break little knowing that his cowardice will haunt him forever.
Arriving at the Richmond Theatre as part of a UK tour, The Kite Runner is an interesting if not quite perfect examination of male friendship and the relationship between fathers and sons – it is notably male in fact and only one woman (Soraya – Amir’s wife) has any substantial lines and very little characterisation that in any way contributes to the overall plot. Spangler has instead created quite a distinct world of motherless boys, traditional notions of masculinity such that Amir’s father would prefer he played football and became a lawyer than write stories, and the very particular aggression of male interaction that results in physical harm, sexual violation and ultimately war.
There is a lot happening in this story which covers 30-years of history and like a lot of biographical plays director Giles Croft’s production struggles to balance the grand sweep of history and cultural expectation with the intimate development of personality and the effects of individual events. It feels particularly episodic in the longer second half as decades tumble too quickly and Amir’s adult life whizzes by in a frenzy of American immigration, marriage infertility and ageing before the long shadow of Hassan finally re-emerges.
The consequences for The Kite Runner is that there is often breadth but not depth, and the rapidity of these transitions feels sometimes false or stagey rather than flowing naturally from one to the next, not help by a number of dramatic conveniences that tidy what is otherwise a messy and complex story of human frailty and self-involvement.
David Ahmad is both narrator and performer, guiding the audience through Amir’s memories in Act One, slipping in and out of his childlike self. On stage for the entirety of the 2 hours and 35-minute show, it is an engaging performance filled with emotional dubiety and later regret, undercut only by the fast-paced nature of the second half where intensity is sacrificed for quantity of story.
Despite only a few scenes, Lisa Zahra has a quiet gravity as Soraya, if only her role in their marriage had greater purpose. Dean Rehman as Amir’s father captures the expectations of his generation while Ian Abeysekera as the General offers a self-assured portrait of a man unused to challenge. Andrei Costin’s Hassan is harder to read, ever-subservient, meek and respectful, he feels more like Amir’s perfect memory than a living, breathing boy of his own.
Barney George’s design is quite full for a travelling show with the incorporation of kite flaps offering opportunity for interesting projection – although it never quite convinces in its attempts to travel from Afghanistan to San Francisco to Pakistan, it does develop atmosphere and menace in all the right places, supported by Hanif Khan’s musical onstage accompaniment. And while it is important that touring productions offer a variety of voices and experiences to audiences across the UK, The Kite Runner is definitely a man’s world and a merciless one at that.
Runs until 14 March 2020