Reviewed by Helen Lister

Afghanistan, 1975.

In the wake of a military coup that overthrew the monarchy, rioting and shooting can be heard in the streets of Kabul. Ethnic tensions characterise daily life. The Soviet invasion is imminent.

Against this tumultuous backdrop, Amir (David Ahmad) and his best friend Hassan (Jo Ben Ayed) spend their days running through the streets, reading quietly under pomegranate trees and of course, kite fighting.

Freshair recently had the chance to watch this turbulent period in Afghanistan’s recent past be brought to life on stage at the Kings Theatre, in Matthew Spangler’s adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s best-selling novel.

Although the historical context of the play is deftly conveyed through subtle costume changes that reflect Afghanistan’s shifting political landscape, at its heart, The Kite Runner is a story about friendship, courage and betrayal that any audience member can connect to.

David Ahmad, who plays the part of Amir, is particularly impressive in his ability to generate both reactions of disgust and empathy in the audience. After he betrays his close friend Hassan at a young age, the audience feels the full extent of the shame that chases him as he leaves Afghanistan to forge a new life in the US, and eventually forces him to return to his home country seeking redemption. Yet despite our despair at Amir’s behavior, Ahmad succeeds in maintaining the audience’s empathy as play’s narrator.

The choice to have the same actor play Amir as a child and as an adult is both effective and chilling, clearly showing us how the choices we make in our childhood can continue to haunt us later in life. Jo Ben Ayed is tremendous in his portrayal of the sweet and loyal Hassan and as a result it is impossible for the audience to remain unmoved by his tragic fate. Hanif Khan also merits a mention as the tabla player who performs live on stage throughout the show, which in addition to the use of traditional singing bowls, completely immerses the audience in the haunting world of The Kite Runner.

Emilio Doorgasingh in the part of Baba does a fantastic job at conveying how individual identity is challenged through the process of migration. Similarly, Amiera Darwish’s character Soraya, one of the few female parts in the play, successfully represents the struggle to balance traditional values with adaptation to a new society.

However, the love story between Soraya and Amir is ultimately unconvincing, as is the supposed tension between Amir, Hassan and their nemesis Assef (played by Bhavin Bhatt). Whilst the climax of their antagonistic relationship is incredibly painful to watch, the relationship both beforehand and after feels underdeveloped, with Assef playing the fool rather than the threatening and manipulative figure we are meant to believe.

Indeed, the play can feel rather unbalanced as a whole, with much of the action taking place in the last thirty minutes of a long performance. Yet fans of the book will be pleased, as this reflects the structure of Hosseini’s original novel and the adaptation is in general a very faithful one. However, the opportunity to be more creative with the plot’s structure and perhaps explore elements of the story that are not shown in the book, for example Hassan’s adulthood, was missed in this adaptation.

In spite of this, I defy anyone not to be moved by the story told. Many of the play’s most challenging themes are sadly poignant today. For example, when Amir and his father smuggle themselves out of Afghanistan, their whole life reduced to two suitcases, one is reminded of the huge numbers of refugees making similar journeys every day.

Overall, The Kite Runner is a visually and sonically impressive production that emphasises the importance of friendship. Although the play has many dark moments, it ultimately leaves the audience with hope for redemption. In contrast to Rahim Khan (Karl Seth)’s comment, ‘It was the two of us against the world, and the world won,’ The Kite Runner affirms that when we show courage, the bad guys don’t always have to win.

'The Kite Runner' is touring throughout the UK until June 2018. For tickets, go to: http://thekiterunnerplay.com/