“Not as good as the book…” Yeah, we get it, you’ve read the book. And sure, maybe it’s true. But there are some tales which transcend the mediums they can be found in. The Kite Runner is one such story which refuses to be constrained – whether it’s the original 2003 novel by Khaled Hosseini, the 2007 film directed by Marc Foster, or now this, a currently touring stage adaptation by Matthew Spangler, it is clear that the power of the Kite Runner’s story is universal.
Of course, where it carries the same strengths it’s always had, it also brings with it the same weaknesses. There may be one-too-many twists in the final act. And it can certainly be said that there is a slight lull after the most high-stakes part of the story is over and it presses through towards the ending. But, as anyone who has come across the Kite Runner in any form before will know, these slight flaws do not detract from the fact that the narrative is one which cuts right to your core. This will become clear at the curtain call when the audience takes what will seem like the first full breath in over two hours.
If you’re not someone who has come across the Kite Runner before, it tells the story of Amir (David Ahmad), a Pashtun Afghan boy whose childhood friendship with his Hazara servant Hassan (Jo Ben Ayed) is one which results in some early questions of morality. Amir’s actions (or inactions) have knock-on effects right through to adulthood, in a tragically structured series of dark regrets and uncontrollable life events. The story carries themes of guilt and loss and is so very very sad, even before you start to notice the parallels with recent Afghan history.
The casting of the play goes some way to change how the Kite Runner is delivered to its audience. Child actors would not have been a good idea here, one reason being the graphic nature of the content, another being the gradual aging of the characters. That said, lead David Ahmad did not replace an actual youngster in every way; it’s a difficult feat for any actor to play an authentic child and not come across as annoying, but I’m afraid David’s young portrayal, which lasted the best part of the first act, needed some work. The casting does also change the way some of the parallels make themselves apparent – there was some beautiful poignancy realised by having the same actor play multiple characters across generations.
The staging of the Kite Runner is, in a word, classy. Relatively minimal, there’s always the perfect amount of ‘stuff’ on stage at any one time to put us right there in every intimate moment with the characters. Two tasteful canvases are often folded down on an axis, carrying with them a variety of narrative purposes: framing projections and covering up ‘unseen’ moments of the story being just two examples. It’s simply well-crafted theatre: from puppetry to an omnipresent tabla performer (Hanif Khan, who seemed more than comfortable sat downstage) the Kite Runner is certainly not shying away from its new home in front of a live audience.
The Kite Runner is showing at the Lowry Theatre until October 7th. It will then continue to tour across the country, with the performances announced so far running until June next year.
Cast: David Ahmad, Jo Ben Ayed, Emilio Doorgasingh, Ravi Aujla, Bhavin Bhatt, Ameira Darwish, Oliver Gyani, Ezra Faroque Khan, Umar Pasha, Jay Sajjid, Karl Seth, Danielle Woodnutt Director: Giles Croft Writer: Matthew Spangler (adapted from Khaled Hosseini) Live musician: Hanif Khan Duration: 150 mins Theatre: The Lowry Dates: Until October 7th, then touring