Writer: Matthew Spangler
From the novel by: Khaled Hosseini
Director: Giles Croft
Reviewer: Lauren Humphreys
Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner is a literary juggernaut, spending over two years in the New York Times best-seller list, spawning a 2007 film and this adaptation for the stage in the same year by playwright Matthew Spangler (inspired by a meeting with Hosseini a year earlier). Originally performed at San Jose Repertory Theatre in 2009, surprisingly, it took until April 2013 to make its UK/European debut. Translated into 42 languages, it has also appeared as a graphic novel.
Amir, once a wealthy and privileged Pashtun from the Wazir Akbar Khan district of Kabul, is now a refugee in the US. Covering a multi-generational period, it looks back at an incident from his Afghan childhood, involving his friend Hassan, Amir’s failure to act to help his friend, and the guilt that has undoubtedly shaped his subsequent life.
It tries, and largely succeeds in outlining a period of monumental political upheaval. Exploring themes of friendship, the relationship between fathers and sons, guilt and redemption, the divide between Sunni and Shia and the refugee experience, but it is Amir’s difficulty in coming to terms with the fate of Hassan, a poor Hazara, and the son of his father’s servant, that forms the backbone of the tale.
As with any page to stage adaptation, the narrative has been condensed and the expansive detail of the novel is, by necessity, lost. That said, it remains largely faithful to the novel’s central themes, it is moving and thought-provoking, but without the gut-wrenching emotion. The over-long second act that almost out-stays its welcome, is partly to blame, padding elements of the story in its desire to build tension and neatly come to a resolution.
Amir is played as both child and adult by David Ahmad, taking him from the streets of Kabul as a child to San Francisco in the 2000s. Ahmad gives a well-measured performance (of a largely unsympathetic character) as both young and older Amir, however, it is Emilio Doorgasingh and Jo Ben Ayed that deliver an emotional punch with their portrayals of Amir’s father and Hassan/Sorab respectively.
The set, though simplistic, evokes the heat and dust of Kabul as well as San Francisco’s skyscraper skyline with cleverly designed changes of lighting. The atmosphere is further enhanced by Hanif Khan’s tabla playing.
Emotive, informative and atmospheric, it gives a human face to a country that remains largely a mystery to the outside world. Well worth watching, but not an easy night at the theatre.
Runs until 16 September 2017 | Image: Robert Workman