Writer: Khaled Hosseini
Adaptor: Matthew Spangler
Director: Giles Croft
Reviewer: Alice Fowler
Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner is a story about courage: the courage needed to fight off evil, speak the truth and, ultimately, atone for the errors of one’s past.
At its heart is the friendship between two young Afghan boys, Amir (superbly played by Raj Ghatak) and Hassan (Jo Ben Ayed). As the play begins, Hassan, the son of Amir’s father’s servant, is Amir’s best friend. He is also the best kite runner in Kabul – the name given to boys who chase after fallen kites in the city’s great kite flying contests.
While the boys delight in one another’s company, their friendship smiled on by Amir’s father, there are clear differences between them. Amir lives in a mansion, Hassan in a shack. Amir is part of the ruling Pashtun class, while Hassan is a Hazara, a minority Shia sect, long the subject of persecution.
All this is deftly covered in this mesmerising production. Menace soon arrives in the form of Assef (Soroosh Lavasini), a bully of the worst kind, who exploits the differences between the boys and subjects Hassan to a disturbing form of torture. Much of the production’s dramatic power comes from Lavasini’s convincing malevolence. From it rises the play’s central question: will Amir – a boy whom his father derides as weak – find the strength to stick up for his friend?
Designer Barney George has created a simple but effective set, with two kite-shaped wings poised across the stage. Kites flutter on strings as the play’s kite-flying tournaments – both pivotal scenes – unfold.
Music is vital too, with a live tabla player, Hanif Khan, on stage throughout, tapping out complex rhythms to underscore key moments. Large wooden rattles – Schwirrbogen, to those in the know – are twirled by the cast, becoming the whispering wind on which the kites rise and fall.
Along the way, there is plenty to learn about the history of Afghanistan and its people, from the Seventies through to the 1990s. As the monarchy falls and the country becomes a republic, Amir and his father flee to Pakistan and thence to San Francisco. There they must begin again, as immigrants, scraping a living in flea markets.
Amir’s relationship with his father – Baba – changes too. Baba, wonderfully played by Gary Pillai, is an authoritarian figure, who wants his only son to man up and play soccer. How much of Amir’s behaviour towards Hassan, we wonder, is driven by jealousy of his father’s clear affection for the young Hazari boy?
There are twists aplenty in the final scenes, as old scores are settled and long-buried secrets emerge. This is a stirring drama, which will stay with you long after you have left the theatre.
Runs until 21 April 2018 | Image: Contributed