Pros: A wonderful story adapted for the stage with outstanding stage design and musical direction.
Cons: It does not achieve the emotional complexities of Khaled Hosseini’s original story. I came to this play with the advantage, or perhaps disadvantage, of having read the book and seen the film. I have always thought that this is one of the only instances where the film truly lives up to the brilliance of the book. With this in mind I had high expectations of the play adaptation of The Kite Runner and, while aspects of it were beautiful and haunting, I left feeling like something crucial had been missing.
I won’t give away too much of the story, since that is one of the strongest aspects of the play. Amir, played by Ben Turner, is a young boy who grows up in luxury in Kabul, Afghanistan. He and his father’s servant Hassan, played by Andrei Costin, are best friends who compete together in the annual Kabul kite competition. Unfortunately, their religious heritage dictates their social standing and gives Amir a sense of superiority over the humble and gracious Hassan. This is a story about guilt, shame and ultimately, Amir’s search for redemption.
Ben Turner concurrently alternates between Amir as an adult in San Francisco, narrating the story and as his younger self. While Turner’s performance as the older, guilt-ridden Amir is convincing and genuinely moving, his characterisation of the young Amir is misjudged in comparison. The acting is of a high standard, with special mention going to Nicholas Karimi who plays an excellent villain, and Emilio Doorgasinghi as Bubba. While the individual performances are generally excellent, there is at times, a certain chemistry missing between the characters. This is where translating such a well known and lauded book to the stage proves particularly difficult. I already know these characters, their intensity, their bonds and so unavoidably, my expectations of their relationships are already set.
The stage design and musical direction is truly outstanding. The theme of the kite runs throughout with two large, winged kites forming part of the backdrop and enabling seamless movement between cities and settings. Hanif Khan on the tabla is at the forefront of the stage providing atmospheric music, with the cast contributing to the powerful sound effects of the kites. The movement, music, lighting and design work coherently together to transport us from Afghanistan to Pakistan to San Francisco and back again.
With Kabul destroyed by war, and many other cities ravaged by bombs and fighting, The Kite Runner is not only a narrative of redemption but an emotive reminder of how lives can be destroyed and displaced by unrest. Unfortunately, the play adaptation of the story just seems to fall short of emoting this empathy for Amir, Hassan and all the lives these characters represent. While the story is a harrowing, beautiful narrative I feel like the constraints of this play, in fact, come from the story itself. It is so wide-ranging and fast paced that, while this translates well to film, the physical and temporal limitations of the stage mean that a lot of what makes the story wonderful, is narrowed to a few lines of Amir’s narration. The set design buoys the transportation across continents and time but, where as the novel allows space for emotional development and the reader’s connection with the characters, only so much is achieved in this 2 hour 20 minute stage performance.
Author: Khaled Hosseini
Adapted by: Matthew Spangler
Director: Giles Croft
Designer: Barney George
Lighting Designer: Charles Balfour
Projection Designer: William Simpson
Composer and Musical Director: Jonathan Girling
Booking Link: https://tickets.delfontmackintosh.co.uk/index.asp?ShoID=2054
Booking Until: 11 March 2017