Adapted by: Matthew Spangler
Based on the novel by: Khaled Hosseini
Directed by: Giles Croft
Reviewer: Deborah Parry
The Kite Runner is a title that you may already be familiar with – it was written in 2003, the debut novel of critically acclaimed author Khaled Hosseini and spent over 100 weeks on the New York bestsellers’ list. In 2007 it was adapted for the screen and in 2009 the stage. Though this is the second stint of the play in the West End, rather than being a revival, it is another staging of the 2014 original UK production by the Nottingham Playhouse – (which has also been on tour since).
The story centres on the friendship between two boys, growing up in the same household in Afghanistan in the 1970s. Amir is rich and privileged and Hassan, by contrast, is the son of a Hazara servant. Despite their different standings in life, the two play merrily, watch films in the cinema together and fly kites on hills in, what appears to be, a carefree childhood – that is until an act of utter cruelty and a subsequent moral decision that Amir makes, divides the boys for good.
Hosseini has an immense talent for writing characters that are easy to empathise with and situations that more than tug on the heartstrings, they burrow right into your soul. He is a great storyteller, painting vivid pictures and taking us on moving journeys, so it is unsurprising that the novel works extremely well on the stage. The book is written in the first person, so the play relies heavily on narration, which is delivered by actor David Ahmad (Amir) with absolute sincerity and conviction – he draws us in.
The set is basic but effective – an Afghan skyline fixed in the background and kite-like screens on either side. Minimal props are used and costumes are also unspectacular – we are given what is necessary and nothing more. Music and sound is mostly live and a feast for the ears – points of drama are emphasised with actors standing at the side of the stage with meditation bells, a sound that is associated with peace and tranquillity works, surprisingly well, to highlight danger too. And live drumming by musician Hanif Khan, on the tabla, creates an atmosphere that is of another world and he helps transport us there.
The cast delivers delicate and sensitive performances – in particular, Andrei Costin who plays both Hassan and Sohrab. He skilfully captures the innocence of both characters in a manner that is moving and highly affecting. This is particularly appreciated as the production has been staged with adult actors portraying the child roles, which has limited success. While Costin convinces, Ahmad struggles to drift between his adult narrator self and capture the essence and playfulness of being a 12-year-old boy – the task is no mean feat though and, perhaps, the production would have done better to have split the roles, using child actors at the start (although the content is difficult, so it is understandable why this was not done).
The division between first and second act seems an unnatural pausing point and the latter half of the play goes on for a bit longer than is comfortable but, for the best part – much like perfect kite-flying – it flows beautifully. The original book sits within the young person’s fiction category but this is really a production for older teens and above – not one for the whole family but one not to miss
Runs until 29 July 2017 | Image: Robert Day