Wednesday 11 January 2017

The Kite Runner - Review

Wyndhams Theatre, London


Written by Khaled Hosseini
Adapted for the stage by Matthew Spangler
Directed by Giles Croft

Andrei Costin

There's a broad canvas painted in Matthew Spangler's adaptation of Khaled Hosseini's novel in a story that traces the troubled recent, tribal history of Afghanistan from its pre-Soviet days to the Taliban nightmare of today. The deepest human drivers of honour, loyalty and guilt are played out through the interwoven family tales of two Afghan boys: Amir (played by Ben Turner) and Hassan (Andrei Costin) his closest friend, who is the son of Amir's family servant.

Kite flying was a national pastime in Afghanistan, with the kite runner chasing after the kites as they fall from the skies. The young Amir and Hassan are a skilled double act in the sport, but Kabul proves to be a dangerous and challenging city and when Amir (unseen) glimpses, in a backstreet, Hassan about to be raped by the local bully, rather than stepping up to defend his friend he shamefully flees.

To reveal any more of the narrative would spoil and the beauty of the production lies in the detail imbued in the characters. There is finely crafted supporting work too from Emilio Doorgasingh and Ezra Faroque Khan, as Amir and Hassan's fathers.

The staging is simple yet imaginative, with Barney George's designs suggesting not only Central Asia but also San Francisco as the plot crisscrosses the globe. Though it’s not all perfect - when an actor's fake beard ends up making his Taliban look more Tevye than terrorist, something's gone wrong. 

While the tale may be epic, its adaptation from the original best-seller is troublingly two-dimensional and at times melodramatic. A sharper wordsmith than Spangler would have told less - in fact much less as the play is nigh on 3 hours - but suggested more, through finer prose. 

Music is prevalent throughout - and one cannot help but wonder if a musical treatment, that might have reached out to both the harsh and beautiful aspects of the tale, might have offered a more artistic interpretation and unlocking of the tale's emotional depths. Tragedy and redemption lend themselves well to a grand score, with the play's second act offering more than a nod to hints of Miss Saigon.

Here for 12 weeks only - If you loved the novel, you'll probably love the play.

Runs until 11th March
Photo credit: Robert Workman

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