Touring – reviewed at the Yvonne Arvaud Theatre, Guildford
Taking on a famous and much-loved book and adapting it for the stage can always be a bit of a double-edged sword. Yes, there’s always that element of security that comes from knowing there’s going to be an audience, but contrast that with the risk that the show will not be able to capture the beauty and the fascination of what made readers fall in love with the novel, which only ends up leaving theatre audiences disappointed. So, how does this stage adaptation of The Kite Runner fair? Well, pretty damn well to be honest.
It is wonderfully faithful to the full story in Khaled Hosseini’s bestseller. The play is narrated by Amir (Raj Ghatak) a man who was raised in relative wealth in Afghanistan, the son of a rich trader who ran a household complete with servants, one of which had a son, Hassan (Jo Ben Ayed) who was Amir’s best friend.
We follow the camaraderie these two boys shared, growing up as they did in the same household but in vastly different social strata, and with all the complexity this brought to the power dynamics in their relationship.
The story hinges on two moments: first, a rift is created in the boy’s friendship when Hassan, a phenomenal talent at the local sport of kite running, makes an extraordinary (and harrowing) sacrifice for his friend; and second, the Taliban take control in Kabul, destroying families, friendships and lives.
But though this adaptation from Matthew Spangler loyally follows Amir’s story through Afghanistan, his family’s escape to Pakistan and their lives as refugees in the United States, it is director Giles Croft and his design team, headed by Barney George, who deserve much credit for looking beyond the words and managing to create a dynamic visual presentation that evokes much of the culture and colour of life in Kabul, from the kites in the sky, to the richly patterned rugs, the violence of life under the Taliban… Even to the inclusion of a tabla player whose beating rhythms give this production its pulse.
As with most book adaptations, there are certain challenges that come from keeping to the original text so diligently. The show does cover the full plot in just over 2h 30m, which does mean that, particularly in the second half, it does lean more towards telling us what is happening, rather than showing us. I get this, I understand this – the momentum and the plot must be kept moving on, so I wasn’t too fussed about this, to be honest.
Indeed, that didn’t seem to bother packed audience one bit as they filtered out after the final curtain fell on this show. Around me, attendees were humming with admiration, marvelling at the show they’d just enjoyed. And that was great to witness for this show is a heady mix of the personal and political, setting the joys and grief of a strained friendship against the background of a country repeatedly ripped asunder by terrorism from within and without. A powerful and quite brilliant production that investigates the complexity of power balances between people – and how these can fluctuate and change on the toss of a coin – with aplomb.