The Kite Runner

Adapted by Matthew Spangler from Khaled Hosseini's novel
Nottingham Playhouse and Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse
Theatre Royal, Newcastle-Upon -Tyne

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Dean Rehman as Baba Tiran Aakel as Ali Yazdan Qafouri as Hassan Credit: Hugo Glendinning
Stuart Vincent as Amir Dean Rehman as Baba Christopher Glover as Rahim Kahn Credit: Hugo Glendinning
Vincent as Amir Credit: Hugo Glendinning
Rehman as Baba Sulin Hasso as Rebecca Andrews/ensemble Vincent as Amir Daphne Kouma as Soraya at their wedding Credit: Hugo Glendinning

The resident tabla player of the show since 2013, Hanif Khan, opens the play with fast, frenetic drumming. The sparse set is invaded by the cast, who watch two kite fliers at the back. The wealthy Pashtun merchant, Rahim Kahn’s (Dean Rehman) son Amir (Stuart Vincent), then starts the story, and what a story it is. He tells of his strained relationship with his father, whom he calls Baba, his guilt of losing his mother while giving birth to him, his friendship with the Hazarat Hassan (Yazdan Qafouri), son of his father’s servant Ali (Tiran Aakel).

It begins in the winter of 1975 in the then peaceful city Kabul when Amir is 12. The first half has such a plethora of information, introducing all the characters, with subplots, conflicts, a multitude of scenes and locations, it takes some concentration to keep up. The older sadistic boy Assef (Bhavin Bhatt) provides mocking, hard-hitting violence amongst all the playfulness of the two friends. When Hassan defends Amir against the violence, Assef swears to get revenge.

Baba’s friend Rahim Khan, (Christopher Glover) provides a more fatherly figure for Amir, understanding him and supporting his writing, as Baba thinks only women do that sort of thing. The reason for this strained relationship is later revealed, putting Amir under even more stress. Amir’s relationship with Khan comes to fruition in the second half, which is a solid development of the story showing how the central characters evolve with their new life in America. A story of friendship, betrayal, father and son, a love story, transnational immigration, refugees, class, ethnicity and more. Spangler said, “it's a story of guilt and redemption."

The two halves of the play are very different in format, plot and portrayal. While the first half is 15 minutes shorter than the second, it seems longer, maybe due to its episodic nature with some voices lacking distinct pronunciation or delivery, making it hard to follow sometimes. The second hour and 10 minutes flew by, with longer scenes resolving and explaining many previous situations, in fact more of a flowing story which the actors rose to. Several actors play more than one part. The packed house responded well to this, showing their appreciation of the hard-working, talented cast of 12 at the end.

The seemingly simple set (Barney George) with multiple entrances is used well by the director (Giles Croft), greatly enhanced by lighting (Charles Balfour) and ingenious projections (William Simpson). These projections turn the central carpet into countless locations effortlessly. It is striking how many people are involved in productions of this scale, and this is no exception, having 57 credits listed.

Adapted by Matthew Spangler from Khaled Hosseini’s award-winning novel, first published in 2003. Set in Afghanistan on the verge of war, published in 70 countries, selling over 30 million copies in 60 languages, an incredibly powerful story. Hosseini was born in Kabul in 1965, his father was a diplomat in the Afghan Foreign Ministry and mother taught Farsi and history at a high school in Kabul. In 1976, the Foreign Ministry relocated the Hosseini family to Paris. Their return to Kabul in 1980 was aborted by a bloody communist coup and the invasion of the Soviet Army. They were granted political asylum in the US, moving to San Jose, California, in 1980, where he still lives. This personal experience is reflected in the play.

It must bring back memories seeing the present situation in his homeland. Almost two thirds of the population needed humanitarian aid in Afghanistan in 2024, further exasperated by drought and climate change. One of the characters says about the Taliban, “they don’t let you be human.” This is a story about three generations of very real people trying desperately to be human. Any human with a heart cannot fail to be moved by their story.

Reviewer: Anna Ambelez

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