The exoticism of The Kite Runner has enchanted readers, cinemagoers, and now theatre audiences, as Khaled Hosseini’s bestseller takes to the stage in an ambitious show spanning decades of recent Afghanistan history.
This co-production between the Liverpool Playhouse and the Nottingham Playhouse has already had its run at the latter venue, so audiences here can enjoy a slick and bedded-in production. Matthew Spangler’s adaptation crams in a lengthy, weighty tale but despite its mammoth running time, the story flows well and keeps a good pace.
Ben Turner plays Amir, the lead character growing up in 1970s Kabul with his friend and boy servant Hassan (Farshid Rokey). His failure to speak up and prevent a horrific event has devastating implications for the rest of his life, even when political events force him to seek asylum in San Francisco. The title comes from Hassan’s talent for kite running – darting after and retrieving kites cut down by others in a very competitive tournament – a carefree, innocent pastime that leads to something very dark indeed.
Amir is a physically and mentally demanding role, and Turner’s performance holds the play together nicely as he at once narrates and lives out his tale. The trouble is, Amir’s failings make him a rather unpleasant character, the kind of gormless, self-serving brat who actually makes you want to stand up and heckle, more than once – “don’t just stand there, you bloody idiot, do something!” Similarly, your heart goes out to loyal, passive Hassan, who is in desperate need of a break that never comes.
It’s intense, and sometimes almost unbearably miserable. Lighter moments, like the arrival of Amir and his father (a grand performance from Emilio Doorgasingh) in America, are nicely done by the ensemble, and the story of their horrendous journey to get there makes a wider political point without being over-earnest. Speaking of which, it is good to see a diverse cast bringing to life a culture and country so seldom given this kind of mainstream platform; yet underneath the otherness of The Kite Runner – which probably accounts for some of its appeal – lies a conventional drama peppered with shocking twists.
However as theatre, it looks and sounds brilliant. The kite flying scenes are technically interesting and a spectacle in itself; the use of projections to set the scenes is beautiful. Musician Hanif Khan provides a live, on-stage soundtrack with traditional Arabic instruments that really builds an evocative atmosphere.
The Kite Runner is on until July 8.