Writer: Khaled Hosseini
Adaptor: Matthew Spangler
Director: Giles Croft
Reviewer: Jo Beggs
Khaled Hosseini’s first novel, published in 2003, was, for many, a shocking portrait of Afghanistan during the rise of the Taliban, that brought home the horrors of a country in deeply personal stories. A huge best-seller, it was later made into a film that gave Hosseini’s story a whole new audience.
Amir and Hassan are best friends, growing up together in a big house with marble floors and a lush green garden in a wealthy neighbourhood in Kabul. Amir is the son of a wealthy businessman, Hassan is the son of his servant. When Amir fails to protect Hassan from a violent attack, their previously close relationship begins to break down and so begins a life of guilt and recrimination for Amir that haunts him his whole life. Add to this personal story the backdrop of a country in freefall, a terrifying escape to Pakistan in the fuel tank of a lorry and the loss of almost everyone he knows, Amir’s story is a wretched one – but not an uncommon one.
On stage The Kite Runner falls somewhere between the original novel and its explicit cinematic re-telling. Matthew Spangler’s adaptation uses much of the original text as narration, spoken by the central character, Amir (David Ahmed), while Barney George’s design creates atmospheric visuals with a bold, minimalist set, gloriously lit by Charles Balfour. The brutal tale is told against a rich, colourful backdrop, the colours of Afghanistan, and of San Francisco, where Amir has ended up, escaping the Soviet Union’s military action in Kabul.
The Kite Runner is a substantial novel with broad themes – from the personal to the global – that Matthew Spangler’s adaptation tries hard to do justice to. This makes for a somewhat overlong production, but Giles Croft’s direction moves the action along at a reasonable pace, and although there are scenes that feel drawn out, the strong narrative drives things along.
Live musical accompaniment is used to break up scenes and create an underlying sense of place. A tabla player, on stage throughout the show, underscores scenes of fear and threat, and moments of celebration. Schwirrbogen – an instrument that is swung in circles to make a swishy, airy sound – accompany the scenes of kite flying – that favourite Afghan pastime that was banned by the Taliban. More choral singing from the cast would have been a welcome addition. We just get a taste of it in Amir’s birthday scene when they sing Tawalodet Mubarak in Farsi, and it’s a rich, lovely sound.
The Kite Runner is very much an ensemble piece of theatre, although much revolves around David Ahmed in the role of Amir. It’s a difficult role, given that Amir isn’t an altogether likeable or strong character. Ahmed is rather too whiney when playing Amir as a child (something which rarely gets carried off that successfully in the theatre), but as a storyteller he delivers the relentlessly distressing narrative with just the right level of pathos. Emilio Doorgasingh plays Amir’s father with a physival stage presence that makes his son’s fear of disappointing him completely believable, yet depicts the dying Baba heartbreakingly, as a shrivelled husk of a man.
This is a powerful and affecting piece of theatre that does reasonable justice to a much-loved book.
Runs until 7 October 2017 | Image: Contributed