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Review of The Kite Runner at Richmond Theatre

The Kite Runner at Richmond TheatreMatthew Spangler’s adaptation of Khaled Hosseini 2003 novel uses first-person narration through the eyes of Amir (David Ahmad) amidst the backdrop of late twentieth-century Afghanistan to focus on the everyday relationships that occur: of father and son, childhood friends, and later on man and wife. Like the kite in the title, the drama sort of floats in the air, bringing together theatrical elements to tell the rarely sturdy and often harrowing events of Amir’s life and those who are closest to him.

The set works quietly, with a subtle shape: the sides of the stage sloping upwards to give a sense of the outdoor ground; like the trajectory of the flying kites, and the plane which eventually takes our central characters to America. Large wooden pieces form a sort of fence and cleverly transform in Barney George’s design into the city skyline in America. All of this plays in front of a screen which expands the physical set with William Simpson’s projected images and colours that effectively set and change the tone as necessary.

David Ahmad leads the cast, effortlessly transitioning from playing himself as a child to becoming the narrator of his story. The early scenes between Amir and childhood best friend Hassan – also his slave – are very touching, so much so that you know it can’t end well. Andrei Costin as Hassan presents vulnerability with an inquisitive expression. It feels like he’d be completely lost without Amir, making the betrayal in the first half even more distressing. There’s strong support in the cast from Dean Rehman as Amir’s father, particularly as he weeps at the loss of Hassan. Bhavin Bhatt’s Assef, the school bully type who later becomes a member of the Taliban, is abhorrently nasty. The acting overall occasionally feels a little overplayed, but generally gets the balance right.

The storytelling in the first act is fairly smooth and engaging, although this feeling begins to plateau in the second half and its arc of tension relies on a few key dramatic moments whilst the parts in between hold a little still. But actually this stillness feels quite refreshing, like the gorgeous white kites that fly in unison like birds on strings at the show’s opening, there’s a lightness to the show’s aesthetic despite it’s darker themes and heavy political underscoring.

Hanif Khan sits in the front corner of the stage and plays the tabla, an Indian percussion instrument, creating a beat upon which the play performs. The production is also held by Drew Baumohi’s sound design which at times sweeps through the auditorium, particularly with the foley effect of the instruments that swing to create a strong wind, and at other times sits in little pockets of the space to help set location. Charles Balfour’s lighting provides warmth and ambience, with a powerful scatter of hard orange lights that leave a striking final image at the end of the first half. At other times it plunges Amir into near darkness. Lifting the show is Kitty Winter’s movement direction, an ensemble sweeps on and off, adding a layer to the suspension of disbelief as the company gather with excitement to watch the kite race.

At times filled with play and love, at others with chilling tragedy, this production takes you like a kite to the sky, a journey with well-crafted sights and moments of sudden turbulence, against the backdrop of political turmoil.

4 stars

Review by Joseph Winer

Following an outstanding West End Run, this unforgettable theatrical tour de force comes to venues around the UK.
Based on Khaled Hosseini’s international bestselling novel, this haunting tale of friendship which spans cultures and continents 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 nor Amir can foresee the terrible incident which will shatter their lives forever.

Adapted by Matthew Spangler
Based on the novel by Khaled Hosseini
Directed by Giles Croft
Originally produced by Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company and Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse

From Tuesday 10th March to Saturday 14th March 2020.

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