Friday, 27 January 2017

The Kite Runner

This stage production of Khaled Hosseini’s best-selling novel is faithful to the original narrative

Written by Ian Shuttleworth

Adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s 2003 novel The Kite Runner predates the film version, so there’s no point in making those kind of comparisons. But you can’t really watch it as a play in its own right either. It’s so obviously adapted from a book that even I, who have neither read the novel nor seen the movie, sat there wondering whether a better job couldn’t have been made of it.ian

It’s all very well saying that protagonist Amir wants to be a storyteller as he grows up in Kabul in the 1970s and 80s, and indeed becomes a professional writer in adulthood after migrating to san Francisco... but having actor Ben Turner as Amir spend almost as much stage time narrating straight out to the audience as he and his fellow actors play out actual scenes feels awkward and a bit of a trudge. Barney George’s stage design uses a gigantic kite as a backdrop on which various projections serve to change the scene; it’s a decent way of alluding to the constant background presence of kite- flying as a symbol of freedom and autonomy, but it and the few onstage representations of the activity aren’t enough to give us the required deep impression.

Amir tells of his youthful friendship with his household servant’s son Hassan who is devoted to him and makes great personal sacrifice; after decades living with the consequences of these sacrifices, Amir is called back to Afghanistan to confront realities about his family and his best friend. Now, the crucial event is Hassan’s rape by a local thug, which Amir is too cowardly to prevent; again, discretion in portraying this onstage is understandable, but I have to admit that I mentally ‘blinked’ and all but missed it. I didn’t feel the constant guilt as Amir does, which drives him to assorted consequential acts and omissions. For me, too, the flavour of this account of guilt and redemption is particularly American, almost self-pitying in its preoccupation with how Amir feels rather than the effects on those around him.

Giles Croft’s production has come into London from Nottingham Playhouse, where it was admired last year. It’s a fluid, sensitive staging, with Turner given strong support by the likes of Emilio Doorgasingh as Amir’s father, Nicholas Karimi as the bully and Antony Bunsee as his snobbish, bigoted father-in-law. (Sectarianism between Pashtun and Hazara peoples, and Sunni and Shia branches of Islam, also pervades the tale.) In the end, though, it strikes me as one of those works that let us feel good as comfortable Westerners about feeling bad about those suffering in more ‘exotic’ places.

Until 11 March at Wyndham’s Theatre, London WC2: 0844-482 5120,

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