Epic novels are notoriously hard to adapt for the stage. Bestsellers routinely disappoint their fans when performed. But lovers of Khaled Hosseini’s story of two boys in a divided Afghanistan will warm to this production. This is soaring show which tugs on the kite strings and the heart strings.
The Kite Runner tells the tale of Amir, a wealthy Pashtan boy and his friend-cum-servant, Hassan, a lowly Hazara. The first half of the play, narrated by the adult Amir, follows their childhood exploits in 1970s Afghanistan. A shared love of Western movies and, in particularly, flying kites, unfolds against a background of growing tension and cultural conflict in Kabul. The second half follows Amir as an adult, in the United States, attempting to atone for what he did to his loyal friend.
The pacing of the piece is perfect. Thirty years of history and heartbreak are spanned, without hurry. The actors convey the emotion of key incidents, without tipping over into melodrama. Amir seems more convincing as a verbose adult than as a child (the same actor plays both, which initially jars.) Meanwhile, Andrei Costin brings the downtrodden Hassan to life with few words.
This is a faithful adaptation but not all of the original book lends itself to theatre. Yet arguably the most difficult scene to stage – the kite contest – is a triumph of movement and colour, thanks to clever choreography.A sumptuous set, projecting Afghani patterns and skylines captures a sense of place. But a special mention goes to Hanif Khan, whose simple percussion soundtrack transports Oxford to the Middle East. Get to your seat early and listen to his rhythms before the play starts. It is a concert in its own right!
Tonight’s show ended with a standing ovation by a packed audience. The Kite Runner has deservedly made its way onto the A-level syllabus. This moving play will appeal to students and win over die-hard fans. It will also stir those who have yet to pick up the book.