• Amy Toledano

The Kite Runner adapted by Matthew Spangler

Image courtesy of Irina Chira

What is it?

Matthew Spangler's stage adaptation of the original book by Khaled Hosseini tells a haunting story of a childhood in Afghanistan. Relevant as ever, not least because as The Guardian’s foreign correspondent Jonathan Steele notes, “The wheel of violence, that started to overwhelm Afghan’s lives as The Kite Runner’s story began, is turning still”.

What is it about?

The story begins in USSR controlled Afghanistan back in 1975. Amir (David Ahmad) and Hassan (Andrei Costin) are best friends. They live together, play together, run around the bazaar and fly kites. The only things that separate them are class and ethnicity. Amir is middle-class and Pashtun, part of the dominant Sunni ethnic group in Afghanistan. Hassan is part of the persecuted, Shia, Hazara minority and is working class. A painful encounter with the sociopath Assef (Bhavin Bhatt), and then the turn of history, change the boys lives forever.

How did it make me feel?

The audience enters the theatre to the sound of the Tabla (Hanif Khan) a percussion instrument commonly used in traditional Afghan, Indian and Pakistani music. This introduces us to the world we are about to enter, and alerts us that a story is about to be told. Narration by a reminiscing adult Amir (David Ahmad) allows the audience to take stock at the beginning of the performance, but also at various moments throughout the play. By the end we are up to date with the story.

Next we are introduced to the children. The accents that are taken on by the child versions of Amir (David Ahmad) and Hassan (Andrei Costin), and later by other members of the cast, are off-putting. At points, this can take away from what is otherwise a well-performed, emotive and heart-breaking story. Instead, it would have been nice to hear some more Pashto and Dari and include subtitles instead. That being said, both actors execute the difficult task of embodying children phenomenally well, and Ahmad transitions seamlessly between the adult Amir and his childhood self.

The design (Barney George) allows for an energetic performance with the powerful twelve strong cast running across the stage, and powerfully making full use of it. The use of white covering in the alleyway scene is also an incredibly clever mechanism of alerting the audience to the violent abuse, without being unnecessarily graphic. The sound design (Drew Baumohl) colours the performance beautifully throughout, the creation of effects such as wind particularly stand out.

Overall the second half is slightly stronger, with some particularly powerful performances. Rahim Khan (Omar Faisal) is wise and almost god-like. The relationship between Amir and Sohrab (Andrei Costin) and Soraya (Lisa Zahra) is emotive. The green lighting (Charles Balfour) also makes for a stunning visual experience. The imposing presence of members of The Taliban add to the drama in the encounter with the adult Assef.

The ensemble, however, really make the latter half of the play stand out as it takes on a poetic feel.

Anything Else?

A visually stunning and well-directed (Giles Croft) response to a challenging adaptation of a much-loved book. Cleverly written composition (Matthew Spangler), in close liaison with Khaled Hosseini himself. It would however just have been more relatable with more Dari and Pashto.

Scarlett x

The Kite Runner is playing at Richmond Theatre until the 14th March and touring the UK.

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