THEATRE REVIEW: The Kite Runner @Theatre Royal

The Kite Runner

Matthew Spangler

Theatre Royal

Based on Khaled Hosseini’s international best-selling novel, this powerful story has been adapted into this stunning stage production.

Afghanistan is a divided country slipping towards 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.

This adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s novel is a vivid exploration of class, sectarian, religious, political and sexual mores in Afghanistan in the last 30 years. Amir is a Pashtun Sunni Muslim while Hassan, the family servant’s son, is a Hazara Shi’a Muslim, this is the basis for the story to unfold, refold and then be folded in again, nothing is quite what it seems in this story, although everything stays the same, the actions can be viewed in retrospect once full knowledge is achieved. I suspect I was the only person in the theatre tonight who had not read the book nor seen the film (which was produced after this play was first performed), so I went in untainted. I left reeling, after a harrowing evening of quite sublime and beautiful theatre focusing on some of the most unpleasant content I’ve winced at in years.

I learned a lot about Afghanistan culture and manners, although the history content is not explored in-depth.  The ultra-personal narrative takes us through his haunting tale of friendship which spans cultures and continents, it follows his journey to confront his past and find redemption. Ultimately he redeems himself by fighting his childhood persecutor, now a notorious Taliban punisher and rescuing Hassan’s son from his twisted abusive hands.

The staging designed by Barney George  is a wonderful set up of lighting, carpet and kite wings which lift in and out of the stage like huge screens with American and Afghan projections to suggest changes of space, geography, focus and narrative tension. They reveal as much as they hide and this gives our imagination it’s awful power. The cast use traditional instruments, singing bowls and schwirrbogen to suggest the endless wind, motion and tensions of the plot, while on stage Hanif Khan  gives us an almost constant percussive Tabla narrative of his own, blending and coherently linking the action across time and geography, he was superb.  David Ahmad as Amir is compelling, Jo Ben Ayed as Hassan/Sohrab elicits empathy from the off and shines in his exploration of humility, devotion and love for his friend.  Emilio Doorgasingh as stern father Baba is a wonderful performance showing the changes in this man as he fights to react to the huge changes forced on him by the crumbling Afghan state and their flight to America.   There wasn’t a member of the cast who I didn’t enjoy watching perform this evening.

I think it’s the first time I’ve seen an all BME cast at the Theatre Royal and this was as refreshing as it was novel. The talented group of actors change roles depending on the chronology of the play but each brings their own conviction to the unfolding of the story.

Learn more and see the full cast, crew and musicians here

It’s a hard look at the chaos of the unleashing of hugely destructive violent social prejudice from the perspective of a small close knit family and community and its ultimate destruction at the hands of its own people, supported, funded and armed by British, American and Russian forces. Its use of personal catastrophe as an intersectional metaphor for national tragedy is relentless.  It’s also a breathless, almost unbearable personal confession and scalpel edged searching for understanding and redemption, filled with wrong turns and cowardice which eventually, after endless trauma, shows that one small act of courage can provide hope for change and be a catalyst for transformation.

As a newbie to The Kite Runner I left changed, this superb staging from Nottingham and Liverpool Playhouses is engaging, fresh and utterly compelling.

Recommended,

Plays until Saturday 18

 

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