The first half hour or so of The Kite Runner is an odd affair, because it feels rather slow to warm up. It feels like a small mountain of exposition, of introductions, it feels like the pace is slow. And then suddenly you realise how completely invested you are in everyone onstage. It creeps up on you. The Kite Runner is really good theatre. It’s powerfully moving, thoughtfully designed, intelligently directed. The cast are great. It’s an excellent way to spend an evening.
I’ll level with you here: I’ve neither read the original book nor seen the film adaptation, and actually this was a great way to come across The Kite Runner. There’s a lot of plot to be squeezed in, and theatre is a very different medium from novel or cinema, so I can’t speak for what was left on the cutting room floor. What I can tell you is that it worked for stage, that I never felt left behind, or on the outside of an in-joke put there for the fans of author Khaled Hosseini. Director Giles Croft, and indeed adaptor Matthew Spangler, are not messing around. Several audience members seemed at the interval to have shed a tear. If you’re going to see this, I recommend investing in a packet of tissues.
David Ahmad as main character Amir treads the line between child with an old soul, and adult with heavy ties to his past, in a very three-dimensional way; he’s engaging, empathetic, and quick on his feet. Other standouts are Emilio Doorgasingh as the stately Baba, Bhavin Bhatt as the unpredictable, dangerous Assef. But if Ahmad carries the storytelling aspects of the show, the atmosphere is carried by musician Hanif Khan and his tabla drums. Flitting as The Kite Runner does between lightness and despair, and later Afghanistan and America, the constantly-onstage Khan sets the mood.
I’m a sucker for a versatile set, and a stage that looks beautiful. Barney George’s design is simple, but rewards looking at closely – the outline of a city, and a pair of huge moving kites fitting working with Charles Balfour’s lighting design to give tone and add texture with great subtlety. It’s just really gorgeous to look at.
Adaptations can be anaemic, have odd pacing, move too fast to build up emotional weight. But this one is great. It sounds like faint praise to say it avoided all the wrong things. It’s just a really good bit of theatre.
Photo courtesy of Robert Day.