The Kite Runner

Mathew Spangler after Khaled Hosseini
UK Productions and Kilimanjaro Productions
Festival Theatre, Malvern

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Yazdan Qafouri (Hassan) and Stuart Vincent (Amir) Credit: Barry Rivett for Hotshot Photography
The wedding of Amir (Stuart Vincent) and Soraya (Daphne Kouma) Credit: Barry Rivett for Hotshot Photography
Stuart Vincent (Amir) and Yazdan Qafouri (Hassan) Credit: Barry Rivett for Hotshot Photography
Dean Rehman (Baba), Tiran Aakel (Ali) and Yazdan Qafouri (Hassan) Credit: Barry Rivett for Hotshot Photography

I cannot think of many plays that hit you in the stomach as hard as Matthew Spangler’s adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s best-selling novel does even before the interval. Knowing what is coming, it still makes me reel.

The pivotal event that drives the plot takes place in Afghanistan in 1975. Amir (Stuart Vincent) is the 12-year-old son of a wealthy Pashtun businessman, who has grown up with their servant Ali’s son Hassan (Yazdan Qafouri), who come from the minority, abused Hazari people. Hassan is Amir's best friend and prized runner in the annual kite-cutting festival, but after Hassan has successfully found and recovered the defeated kite, he is ambushed. Amir fails to protect him from being raped, and is so ashamed to face him that he contrives to frame him for theft, with the result that both father and son are forced to leave—with terrible consequences.

The success of the piece hangs largely on the two principal actors, both of whom are entirely convincing here in difficult roles. There is little to commend Amir, privileged, too ready to exploit his power over Hassan even before the breathtaking betrayal, but Vincent, in hunch-shouldered surrender to those around him, manages to win understanding if not approval for the actions of this weak-willed wimp. Only in a final confrontation some years later with his reactionary father-in-law does he seem to rise to his full height and achieve some dignity.

Like Vincent, Qafouri has the ability to make one believe one is watching a 10- or 12-year-old boy. His loyalty is touching, his bravery inspiring, and the moment of his false confessesion to the theft, in order to prevent his friend being caught in a lie, is heart-breaking. Qafouri never raises his voice, and seldom his eyes—blessed are the meek, blessed the pure in heart.

The second part of the play deals more with the politics, in particular the horrors later inflicted upon innocent Afghan citizens, by the Taliban, exemplified by Bhavin Bhatt, neighbourhood bully turned casual killer, who seems to convey brutality in every bristle.

A strong supporting cast also includes Dean Rehman as Amir’s forthright, upright father and Christopher Glover as his friend Rahim, a solid example of the old Afghanistan before its take-over by extremists. Music is now just one of the many freedoms they have destroyed, so it was both pleasant and poignant to hear the percussive sounds of the country that form a background to much of the action, with the virtuoso tabla playing of Hanif Khan front of stage.

The production's UK tour continues to Sheffield, Brighton, York, Newcastle and Cheltenham until Saturday 6 July 2024.

Reviewer: Colin Davison

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