Khaled Hosseini’s 2003 novel The Kite Runner is known globally — that is, in part, thanks to the film that followed. Now, it finds itself in the form of a poignant and touching West End play.
Matthew Spangler’s adaptation for the stage tells the tale of a troubled Afghanistan citizen across 25 years. Brutal in impact and regularly touching, this is a story that’s not quite like the others. It’s raw, it’s daring, and it’s painfully relevant and reflective to the lives of those elsewhere in the world today.
Tracking the life of Amir, we follow the older narrator as he looks back at his younger self in Kabul, later following his life to America. Recounting the times he’s put himself before friends, family and God, his self-worth and lack of fairness to others causes troubles he knows are of his own doing. With childhood friend Hassan tasting the bitter consequences of his actions, the tight bond of friendship is stretched to its finest degree.
Ben Turner as Amir and Andrei Costin as Hassan make brave choices that leave them both exposed throughout. Deciding to find depth and heart in their roles, rather than just relying on the brilliance of this writing, means the closing moments here hurt. They’re raw, and we’re sure play true to the feeling many in the world experience almost daily. Narrated well by Ben, his split between adult and child character lands perfectly. There’s even the occasional langauge change that displays great talent from both actors.
Hanif Khan’s percussion accompanies each scene live on stage, as Barney George’s large-scale kite scenic design regularly frames wooden flooring. Using projection and clever lighting to form a border to each location, there’s many places this story goes — and goes there beautifully.
However, this play is too long. Lengthy scenes and unnecessary dialogue can leave your mind to wonder on occasion, but the richness of the text elsewhere only highlights such a weakness at times. Add in the use of simple stage crafts to simulate kite flying and your attention rightfully returns to focus once again. Matched by an ensemble that cover many roles, there’s the introduction of many faces and stories to expand your knowledge of such a culture.
The use of native languages and political clashing of Pashtun (Sunni) and Hazara (Shi’a) characters, alongside delicate and fine deliveries by its two leading men, result in a great night at the theatre. We, like many before, have enjoyed Khaled Hosseini’s novel in our mind, but seeing it live on stage took our love for it further. As ever, nothing quite lives up to the joys of literature on the page and in our imagination, but as far as an adaptation from page to stage goes, this is the next best thing.
GT gives The Kite Runner at the Wyndham’s Theatre — 4/5