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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Kite Runner
Wyndham's Theatre  January 2017; Playhouse June-August 2017

Like all literary blockbusters worthy of the name, Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner is a multi-layered narrative with tons of characters in unexpected situations, all of which poses challenges for a live adaptation, particularly in meeting audience preconceptions and finding a convincing narrative framework.

Matthew Spangler, the American writer of this stage adaptation of 2006 (i.e. written just before the film version came out), got to know Hosseini and that must have helped him solve how to tell this coming of age tale. 

And it's a lot more than that, what with migration, war and clashes of superpowers, ethnicities, culture and religion as Afghanistan collapsed under the accumulated weight of the Taliban takeover and Russian invasion during the 1970s. 

All this is witnessed through the eyes of Amir (Ben Turner), the son of successful businessman Baba (Emilio Doorasingh) in Kabul. We first meet him as a child, and as he grows up Amir starts to participate in kite fights helped by his childhood friend and servant Hassan (Andrei Costin), the kite runner of the title. 

A tragic turn of events fuelled by Amir's betrayal leads to the crumbling of his family set-up just as his country starts to fall to pieces too. His father smuggles him over the border to Pakistan and thence to California where Amir comes of age and becomes a budding writer – much to the disapproval of his Pashtoon community. 

He falls for fellow Afghan exile Soraya (Lisa Zahra) but finds his attempts to build a new family identity knocked sideways as his Afghan past unexpectedly comes back to haunt him. 

Directed by Giles Croft, this West End version is a touring production from Nottingham Playhouse, and it comes finely tuned with a cracking cast who multirole with skill and sensitivity (even if the accents are all over the place and the Dari/Persian and Arabic sections need serious attention). 

As Amir, Turner works hard and holds down his dual functions as character and narrator. Costin plays the infantile Hassan convincingly, while Nicholas Khan offers strong support as family friend Rahim Khan. 

The set lacks depth as is the wont of touring sets, but it does offer Barney George's versatile scooped space focused on huge kite halves that reveal and conceal. Rather than distract with overcomplex lighting, the texture comes from projections of Afghan craft designs and onstage tabla player Hanif Khan. 

Spangler's very American vision is archetypely literary to its core. You can easily see the echoes of works like Of Mice and Men and the compulsory father-son dilemma.

His storytelling is of the earnest narrator type, setting up scenes that rely on exposition rather than sustained dialogue to connect up the dots. 

The second half in particular struggles to convey the new dimensions added by Amir’s move to California and makes frequent cartoon-style leaps of logic to get from one scene to the next. 

The effect is often soap opera-ish but in the end director Croft's focus on the personal journey along with a hard-working ensemble make this very much a winning adaptation.

Nick Awde

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Review - The Kite Runner - Wyndham's Theatre 2017

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