This review first appeared on The Public Reviews on 30th April 2013
From the internationally best selling novel The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini comes the play version by American writer, Matthew Spangler. This is the much anticipated European stage première at Nottingham Playhouse and is a Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse production directed by Giles Croft and given a stunning design by Barney George.
Khaled Hosseini himself calls the work an “intimate-epic” meaning that the narrative is often deeply personal and other times reflects on a sweeping adventure and ethical parable. The original story germinated from a newspaper report quoting that the Taliban had “banned the sport of kite flying in Afghanistan”. Hosseini, who enjoyed this sport himself in 1960s Kabul, was then inspired to write a short story which evolved into the novel. This story of Amir and his dual betrayals towards his childhood friend Hassan; the damaging consequences, the additional turmoil of destructive historical events in Afghanistan, takes us on a vast emotional roller-coaster journey spanning thirty years. This is also a compellingly complex story of the Afghan immigrant experience in America. Its themes are as much about a country’s struggles to live with violence and oppression as they are the freeing natures of true love and redemption. The heart breaking and painfully honest tale is told through narrative and reflective form through the main character Amir.
Amir is a deeply flawed character. As a child growing up in 1970s Kabul, he is in turns deceitful, dreamy, sensitive, capable of lying and betrayal. He has a budding ambition to be a writer and yet he constantly feels anguished and desperate to be loved by his successful but distant father. Given these traits he is not aloof to his shortcomings and failings. As he grows older and flees to the USA with his father, Amir’s story becomes one of guilt and remorse and a deeply felt wish to redeem himself. From an unexpected phone call the adult Amir seeks, “.. a way to be good again.” He must return to a Afghanistan under Taliban rule and save a life under life threatening circumstances or live with the guilt of his actions forever.
The Nottingham Playhouse production is a triumph of theatrical story telling as heartbreaking and moving as the novel itself with hope at its ever-shifting core. Matthew Spangler’s well executed storytelling ensures that we are gripped from beginning to end.
The production is blessed with a cast of ten actors and the Playhouse Ensemble supernumeraries as well as Hanif Khan the musician who creates tempo and atmosphere playing Jonathan Girling’s excellent compositions. The nine year old Amir and Hassan are played by adults BenTurner and Farshid Rokey. The challenge for Turner is that he has to play Amir as a child, a teen, a man at eighteen, twenty four and also narrate the piece as a thirty eight year old. And he does it superbly in a subtle and convincing performance that totally has the audience eating out of his hand. Afghanistan born Rokey as Hassan is immensely likeable and perfectly captures the character’s loyal, sweet and trusting nature. He is very believable as the tragic orphan, Sohrab, in the latter part of the play. Hassan’s father Ali (Ezra Khan) is a wonderfully understated performance straight out of a story book. The strong authoritative characters of General Taheri (Antony Bunsee) and Baba (Emilio Doorgasingh) command the stage whenever they are present and Doorgasingh’s portrayal of Baba as a man dying with cancer is heartbreaking. Nicholas Karami as Aseef the socio-path and later Taliban leader is disturbing to the core.
In the gentler roles Nicolas Kahn as Rahim Khan exudes a quiet confidence and a sympathetic note as the family friend who encourages Amir’s writing. Lisa Zahra adds a welcome female note in a practically all male cast as Amir’s future wife Soraya and is particularly convincing in a very short scene as Mrs Nguyen the Vietnamese shop owner.
The stage set is a simple ochre coloured cobbled street curved like a shallow bowl with a backdrop of large truncated fence panels. The episodic nature of the play is enhanced and demonstrated through wonderful projections and a massive story teller’s carpet graces the stage throughout. Packing boxes are imaginatively utilised to create differing levels and particular scenes such as the Swap Meet market and a car journey. The lighting design by Charles Balfour was exemplary.
All in all, a totally wonderful theatrical experience that has the audience giving a well-deserved standing ovation.