★★★★ | The Kite Runner, Wyndham’s Theatre
The Kite Runner tells the story of Amir, a young boy played by Ben Turner, growing up at the beginning of the troubles, in Afghanistan. When the Russians invade he is forced to flee with his ailing father or “Baba” (Emilio Doorgasingh) and begins a new life in the US where he finds a bride in what should be a happy ever ending. Unfortunately, Amir is also accompanied by a burdening baggage of guilt as a result of a set of lies and deceit, a secret known only by his father’s dear old friend Rahim (Nicholas Khan) who remained in Kabul.
Amir’s mother had died during Amir’s birth, so he was brought up by Baba and father and son servants, the later Hassan (Andre Costin) of whom had developed a strong and loyal bond with Amir which is pivotal to the storyline. However, Amir betrayed that loyalty after witnessing an outrageous act on Hassan by a local gang of youths, who’s ring leader Assef (Nicholas Karimi) and Amir’s nemesis, reappears in an added twist later in the story when he is compelled by Rahim to return on a dangerous mercy mission to Kabul, now inhabited by the Taliban.
The adaptation is brave as it’s a narration by Amir of his journey from boy to man and the tragedy that unfolds. This is a common style for Asian story telling but there is a danger that narration can be plodding and almost “sermon-esque” but Mathew Spangler seems to have struck a perfect balance between the story telling, flash-backs and cleverly choreographed crowd scenes that echoed the atmosphere and rhythms of Husseini’s novel, helped by a strong performance from Ben Turner and the supporting cast. The stage set is minimal with a kind of skateboard park half pipe that cleverly allows an illusion of height and depth for the performers to work off especially during the kite flying and action scenes, the backdrop a giant movable kite that had patterns projected on to it that complimented each scene.
Tragedy upon tragedy lent to a relatively high tear jerk rating but this was pleasantly interspersed with humour from the characters who seemed to grow in confidence as the performance progressed and they connected with the audience.
My only minus point about this stage version is that Husseini’s novel addressed other issues head on, shaking a fist at the revolving door of invaders that ruined what was once a beautiful country and a Mecca for travellers seeking enlightenment with a steady bustling economy and the subservient divide between Sunni and Shia, issues that were incidental and merely form a backdrop in this stage version, but were what made the novel a hot potato. However, to encapsulate the novel in its entirety on stage is too big an ask!
I cannot sum up without mentioning the wonderful and often hypnotic percussion accompaniment from Hanif Khan that gelled the performance, beautifully done.
I recommend this play, well written, and with strong performances throughout. I have already booked my return ticket!
The Kite Runner runs at the Wyndham’s Theatre until 11th March.