The Kite Runner

Khaled Hosseini, adapted by Matthew Spangler
Martin Dodd for UK Productions and Stuart Galbraith for Kilimanjaro
Sheffield Lyceum

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Stuart Vincent as Amir and Yazdan Qafouri
The cast of The Kite Runner
Stuart Vincent as Amir and Yazdan Qafouri

Khaled Hosseini's powerful, deeply moving epic novel, published in 2003, was adapted for the stage by playwright Matthew Spangler and given its first performance in California in 2007.

A story involving three generations of an Afghan family is played out against a background of invasion and occupation, civil war between pro-Soviet and Islamic supporters and ultimately the brutal, repressive rule of the Taliban.

Amir and his father Baba live in comfort in a spacious home in Kabul in the 1970s, waited on by long-term family servant Ali and his son Hassan who are members of a despised minority group, the Hazaras. Amir and Hassan are close friends, but when Amir fails to help Hassan when he is being attacked by a gang of brutal Pashtun boys led by sadistic Assef, the friendship is broken and the family dispersed.

Spangler calls the novel, "a story of guilt and redemption", but another crucial element is self-loathing, which dominates the lives of Amir and Hassan's son, Sohrab (the next generation).

The complex story is beautifully represented in thoughtful and sensitive performances from the whole cast. Moments of unbearable cruelty are tactfully distanced from view, and the darker sequences alleviated by the excitement of the kite flying, the song and dance of family celebration and Hanif Khan's brilliant rhythmic drumming on the tabla and other instruments.

Stuart Vincent is dominant as narrator and as the young and much older Amir. Yazdan Qafouri is delightful as the happy, playful Hassan of early scenes, and his later, morally impressive self-sacrifice is convincing. He doubles as Sohrab, a role which calls for range and variety, which he provides with impressive sensitivity.

The play has a villain in Assef, convincingly performed by Bhavin Bhatt, as the sadistic boy of the early scenes and the full-grown Taliban monster of the second act. Daphne Kouma gives a thoughtful performance as Saroya, one of the few female roles in the play.

I was captivated by the simple but highly adaptable set designed by Barney George, by Charles Balfour's imaginative lighting design and William Simpson's projection design, which is particularly effective in the kite-flying scenes. A magical moment is when the basic set of irregular thick wooden stakes is transformed into a distant American city.

This is very much an ensemble show. The full, quite large cast contributes to the energetic crowd scenes and is crucially involved in quick and efficient scene changes.

I have one or two concerns about how the production is adapted to the Lyceum stage. Downstage speech is perfectly easy to hear, but voices further back are often lost, which can be critical when new plot information is introduced. Also, there is occasional masking of upstage performers when a character like Amir directly addresses the audience from a downstage position.

Nevertheless, this production is a delight in many ways. It is a faithful representation of the novel, visually thrilling, with excellent individual and whole cast performances. It would be worth reading the novel before coming.

Reviewer: Velda Harris

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