In 2003 Khaled Hosseini’s debut novel The Kite Runner took the literary world by storm, clocking up more than 100 weeks on the New York bestsellers’ list. Four years later Matthew Spangler adapted the novel for the stage after meeting Hosseini in San Francisco in 2006.
(The play has no relationship with the film that came out in 2007). Spangler spent time researching Afghan history and culture, met with musicians, writers and ‘advocates for the Afghan community’ as well as members of Hosseini’s family to bring the story and characters in the novel to the stage. The play was first produced in 2007 at San Jose State University where Spangler is a Professor of Performance Studies. It took until 2014 to be seen in the UK at the Nottingham Playhouse and subsequently toured other parts of the UK. This summer production at the Playhouse follows on from a critically acclaimed run at Wyndham’s Theatre earlier this year, with a few cast changes. Having not read the novel or seen the film I had no preconceptions and cannot report on how closely or not the play follows the novel, but having seen it I can say with certainty that I would very much now like to read the novel to revisit this powerful story of friendship and redemption which starts amidst the tumultuous setting of social and political change of 1970s Afghanistan.
As we take our seats we are already being transported to Kabul with evocative and virtuosic live drumming onstage on the tabala by musician Hanif Khan. Khan plays wonderfully throughout and is also complimented by other music composed by Jonathan Girling, energised, urgent, joyous and sometimes calm and peaceful. The set is a simple Afghan skyline, which later seamlessly transforms itself into San Francisco. The cast are beautifully directed by Giles Croft – The kite running is exhilarating!
The play is narrated throughout by Amir (the novel is written in the first person) played very genuinely by David Ahmad who we first meet as 12-year-old. From the outset his earnest veracity draws us straight in to his joyous childhood friendship with Hassan, sensitively played by Andrei Costin (who also plays Sohrab very movingly in the second act). Amir and Hassan both live in the same house but their circumstances could not be more different – Amir’s father Baba, perfectly captured by Emilio Doorgasingh, is a domineering personality, wealthy businessman and owns an immense and wonderful house in Kabul. Hassan’s father Ali is by contrast, a poor Hazara, modest and works diligently and uncomplainingly as Baba’s servant – a moving, nuanced performance from Ezra Faroque Khan.
The two boys forge a deep friendship despite their vast differences in position, living an idyllic and careful childhood it seems, playing games, watching films in the local cinema and running kites on the Afghan hills. All is dreadfully changed In an instant by a horrendous act that neither boy is responsible for but in his reaction to events, Amir destroys not only this precious friendship but also the lives of all those in the household. Something Amir will regret his whole life and which has far reaching consequences for all, but he finds courage in the end to try and make amends and redeem himself.
The Kite Runner is epic, moving across continents as well as moving our hearts and souls. Evocative, compelling and extremely moving, Hosseini’s characters are powerfully portrayed and draw us in to the dramatic and emotional situations they encounter, We are reminded that within family and friendships there is loyalty, conflict, betrayal, secrecy, disappointment, pride, courage and much love. Fortunes can change dramatically and unexpectedly with harrowing consequences. In this epic story Amir gets a second chance to make things better. Would that Afghanistan itself could get that chance – how wonderful that would be.
Review by Catherine Françoise
Based on Khaled Hosseini’s international best-selling novel, this haunting and powerful story has been adapted into a stunning stage production. A haunting tale of friendship which spans cultures and continents, it follows one man’s journey to confront his past and find redemption. Afghanistan is a divided country on the verge of war and two childhood friends are about to be torn apart. It’s a beautiful afternoon in Kabul and the skies are full of the excitement and joy of a kite flying tournament. But neither Hassan or Amir can foresee the terrible incident which will shatter their lives forever…
THE KITE RUNNER
Adapted by Matthew Spangler
Based on the best-selling novel by Khaled Hosseini
Directed by Giles Croft
Produced by Martin Dodd for
UK Productions and Derek Nicol &
Paul Walden for Flying Entertainment
Originally produced by Nottingham
Playhouse Theatre Company and
Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse
8 June – 26 August 2017
London, WC2N 5DE