The Kite Runner
Adapted by Matthew Spangler, based on the novel by Khaled Hosseini
Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company and Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse
For many people, Afghanistan is known only through reports of violence with places such as Kabul and Helmand familiar as strategic military outposts rather than vibrant communities.
Hosseini’s best-selling novel of 2003 is set in Afghanistan, a long-time target of many invading forces including Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan. This returning stage adaptation of The Kite Runner begins as Afghanistan is again making the headlines with UK troops heading towards a full withdrawal from this troubled country.
It is now just over a year since British Theatre Guide’s Steve Orme reviewed the European première of Matthew Spangler’s 2009 adaptation of Hosseini’s novel, with the play then enjoying a successful run in Nottingham, Liverpool and Brighton. Now returning to Nottingham Playhouse, The Kite Runner begins a ten-week UK tour with just a few changes to the original cast.
The Kite Runner is an emotional study of father-son relationships set against the backdrop of Afghanistan’s transition from relative peace in the early 1970s to the fall of the monarchy, Russian invasion and the rise of the Taliban by the end of the decade. Twelve-year-old Amir is the son of an influential Afghan businessman and our narrator as his life and the fortunes of his country unravel.
Amir is best friends with his father’s servant’s son Hassan and the complex, guilt-laden relationship between father, son and servant’s son is key to the play. Andrei Costin as Hassan is one of the few changes to the cast from the 2013 production, capturing Hassan’s downtrodden yet ultimately noble character well.
Ben Turner returns to the role of Amir with a compelling and engaging performance; Amir does not always take a heroic course of action yet Turner’s emotional depth draws sympathy and understanding. True to the novel, Amir’s story is told chronologically from his journey as privileged child in the East to his family’s escape and new life as Afghan immigrants in the liberal San Fransisco West.
Barney George’s set design is minimal but effective; use of the kite-like screen as backdrop for various projected settings is beautifully done with Hanif Khan’s on-stage tabla accompaniment enhancing the atmosphere. The kite running scenes are clever, the kites themselves mesmeric combined with eerie sounds created by the cast’s use of hand-held wind generators.
Emilio Doorgasingh reprises the role of Baba, Amir’s bear of a father and commanding presence in the community. Baba’s character is the conduit through which Afghanistan’s traditions and cultural heritage are revealed, highlighting the many sects which make up the country and their place within society.
Very much a play about the male experience, Lisa Zahra strikes a lone figure as Amir’s wise and dutiful wife Soraya although there are some issues with projection as some of the cast’s lines, particularly Zahra, are lost in delivery.
The play itself packs in the whole novel and the second act particularly includes unnecessary repetition and exposition which slow the piece; running at over two and a half hours, additional editing would be of benefit.
However, Giles Croft’s thoughtful direction allows this heartbreaking and heartwarming story to unfold and develop with smooth transitions between narration and dramatic action providing a fascinating insight into this often misunderstood nation.
Reviewer: Sally Jack