★★★ | The Kite Runner
Set against the complex backdrop of a 1970s Afghanistan in upheaval and later 1980’s Los Angeles, the story – narrated by an adult Amir who jumps in and out of the action – is of two young boys Amir and Hassan whose friendship is complicated by racial inequality and servitude.
The boys are united through kite running competitions but a nasty incident and an act of cowardice tear the two apart.
Wide in scope, heavy in emotion: The Kite Runner’s story is where its strengths lie but with Khaled Hosseini’s bestselling book and the film already available is this the best medium for it? The Kite Runner suffers in translation from text to stage due to its reliance on narration. The story is arguably too unwieldy to be dealt with in any other way but this is a story of human relationships and powerful emotions and too often I wanted to be shown instead of told. As a result the stage regularly appeared empty, lacking dynamism and I felt distanced from a story that had the potential to wrestle me to the ground.
Credit to Ben Turner though, who was present on stage through the whole piece, switching as he does between the narrative voice and on-stage persona of Amir. Sadly though, I was never blown away; his American accent jarred and when playing the younger Amir I felt he went too young for the role, verging on childish caricature. Turner performed competently but never quite gripped. The supporting cast impressed though, including Farshid Rokey playing the childhood friend Hassan. Rokey again played it too young but was more convincing and I believed his unwavering loyalty. Emilio Doorgasingh as the father doesn’t quite fit the role of domineering patriarch in stature and voice but I felt his conflicted emotions and his frustration and he won my affection. Special mention goes to the on stage percussion – a nice touch that added a layer of energy to the performance and it seemed to me that as the curtain fell it was the percussionist that enjoyed the loudest applause.
Simple but effective set design – minimal props and projection – allowed for quick and efficient set changes that let the story flow. The animated hand drawings of childhood and misshapen comic book skyline of Los Angeles added a sense of magic and warmth to what was often a heavy story.
If this is the Playhouse’s centre-piece for the coming season then ultimately I was a little disappointed. It didn’t drag but it didn’t grab. Its strength is in its source material and this was source material I was familiar with; on stage I was hoping for something a little different, a little more dynamic.
The Kite Runner is on until the 18th of May.