It’s been several years since I pored over the pages of Khaled Hosseini’s powerful novel The Kite Runner. This incredible tale of friendship affected by conflict, war and overwhelming guilt, all came flooding back with Matthew Spangler’s heart-breaking adaptation for the stage.
We meet childhood friends Amir (Ben Turner) and Hassan (Andrei Costin) in 1970s Kabul, when Afghanistan is prosperous and permits an unlikely friendship between the two young boys of master and servant. There’s a touching innocence to their relationship as they dream of meeting a Farsi speaking John Wayne and play fight with finger-pows and sling shots. Their brotherly bond is truly harnessed during the kite flying tournaments, when their double act sees them become the kite fighting champions.
Ben Turner beautifully narrates as protagonist Amir – now an American after fleeing the rise of the pro-Soviet groups in his turbulent country. He retrospectively looks back at his childhood (sometimes with an off-putting child voice) tinted by guilt and shame. Guilt for not being the man his father wanted him to be, and guilt for betraying his friend when he fails to intervene in Hassan’s brutal assault. The innocence is lost and their friendship stained as Amir is unable to escape his gut-wrenching conscience.
The first half of Spangler’s adaptation packs a real punch with the haunting image of Amir fading into the darkness before the interval. However, it feels very much a play of two halves. There is a great deal of content explored in the lengthy second act that it sadly loses a bit of momentum towards the end.
Something I found in Hosseini’s writing, is the magic he radiates when talking of his lost country. It’s gorgeously captured in Director Giles Croft’s vivid imagining of a mystical Kabul, brought to life with tabla player Hanif Khan, setting the mood with his percussion throughout. Equally designer Barney George and lighting designer Charles Balfour transform a simple set to evoke palatial homes, bustling parties and a barren wilderness, brimming with Middle-Eastern charm. However, like the book, the mood isn’t sustained throughout the rest of the journey and becomes quite narrator heavy.
The tale has a real autobiographical feel, harrowing in content and raw in emotion. As a story, it’s poetic and brilliant but as piece of theatre I am not sure how well it translates. Despite this, there is a redeeming message of hope, when the strings of guilt can be cut loose.
(Photo courtesy of Robert Day)