The Kite Runner at Richmond Theatre | Review

The Kite RunnerThe Kite Runner is a wonderful play about the history and culture, people and politics of Afghanistan. Based on Khaled Hosseini’s 2003 novel, Matthew Spangler’s adaptation for the stage somehow manages to capture the many layers of complexity that give the novel such heft and power. The play gives us a story about a father and son, two best friends, a love story, refugees, war and peace, global geopolitics, not to mention ethnic and religious conflict. But above all the play is about love, loss and loyalty. The play does a wonderful job of merging the personal and the political so that the two are inseparable. Just as they are in life. The play gives a profound insight into the dynamics of what happened in Afghanistan and why it remains so intractable to this day. But it does so through a narrative of two little boys and their love of flying kites. This is an important play in which anyone who wishes to get closer to the heart of the human condition should go and see.

The feel of the play is greatly enhanced by the mesmerising playing of Hanif Khan on the tabla drums. Accompanying the actors throughout he creates a seductively hypnotic atmosphere. As the kites fly the large football rattles – Schwirrbogen – make a whooshing sound to mimic the flight of the kites in the wind. Barney George’s set evokes the mountains and skyline through the use of wooden blocks and video projections. Authentic costumes, songs, rituals and ceremonies (occasionally spoken in Farsi) together make for a veritable immersive Afghan experience. Great stuff. I loved it.

The play is structured around three previous works of art. The epic 10th-century Persian poem Rostam and Sohrab. This provides the father and son conflict between Baba (Dean Rehman) and Amir (David Ahmad). The film The Magnificent Seven provides the parallel between the Mexican peasants and the bandits, updated to present-day Afghanistan as first Russians and then the Taliban play the part of bandits terrorising the Afghan people. Finally, the novel Wuthering Heights gives the play a frame within which life is seen as cyclical and recurring. So that both people and houses come back as it were. The sins of one generation are passed onto the next. It’s a brilliantly conceived work of art that makes fascinating thoughts and connections. 

It’s a strong cast with many outstanding performances. Bhavin Bhatt as the sadist Assef is terrifyingly convincing. He is a case study in the development of a school bully into a dangerous adult. He gave a really profound insight into the mind of a brute. Dean Rehman as the father figure is compelling. He convinces as the disappointed father, upset that his son cannot live up to his expectations. He was centre-forward for the football team and he can’t understand why Amir has ‘two left feet’. David Ahmad is the show’s narrator and David Copperfield figure. It’s his autobiography. He is excellent as he shifts between child and adult, changing his voice as he does so. We follow him as he struggles to find his voice and be true to himself. In that sense, The Kite Runner is a coming of age story. Part Sophie’s Choice part Great Expectations. For me, the stand-out performance was that of Andrei Costin as Hassan/Sohrab. At once tender and charming he captured perfectly the childlike innocence and wonderful naivety of the servant boy Hazara. A superb actor who manages to go into the shoes of another human being and see the world through their eyes. Magical. I would pay to see it all again.

4 Stars

Review by John O’Brien

Following an outstanding West End Run, this unforgettable theatrical tour de force comes to venues around the UK.
Based on Khaled Hosseini’s international bestselling novel, this haunting tale of friendship which spans cultures and continents follows one man’s journey to confront his past and find redemption.

Afghanistan is a divided country on the verge of 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.

Adapted by Matthew Spangler
Based on the novel by Khaled Hosseini
Directed by Giles Croft
Originally produced by Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company and Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse

Richmond Theatre
From Tuesday 10th March to Saturday 14th March 2020.