Reviewed by Nigel Chester
The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini, was a book club favourite and remained on the New York Times bestseller list for two years before its release to film in 2007. The European play premiered at the Nottingham Playhouse in the spring of 2013 and last night we were lucky enough to be in the audience of the wonderful Edwardian, Buxton Opera House. A venue that always delights, from the worn steps to the gold cherubs: being at Buxton is always a treat and last night’s performance of the Kite Runner, adapted to stage by Matthew Spangler was no exception.
In spite of the reputation of The Kite Runner, we had neither read the book or seen the film, so we came to the play with no preconceptions or expectations. During the interval I chatted to fellow members of the audience, and it would appear that, no matter what the prior experience with The Kite Runner is, all of us agreed that it was breathtakingingly brilliant, powerful and emotive.
The staging is perfection and the creative team directed by Giles Croft, excelled.
We open with the ever-present musician, Hanif Khan, seated on a rug to the right of the stage skilfully playing the table, he was the rhythm of the night and as he made the Tibetan singing bowls soar, members of the cast also played, one voice moving the play along.
Our protagonist is Amir (Raj Ghatak) who, dressed casually in dark chinos and collarless white shirt, is the narrator of his own story, who slips in and out of the acting the role he is describing. Opening in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan in the early 1970s, I knew little of the geography of the region or the political struggles of the people of Afghanistan, but everything I needed to understand, Amir told us.
I could relate easily to the childhood Amir was enjoying, endless days playing with the son of his father’s servant, Hassan; we watched them pretend to be cowboys and Indians and roll and fight as boys so often do. We quickly understood that Hassan’s loyalty was unwavering and even though he was a Shia Muslim to Amir’s Sunni, the boys saw no difference, they were one.
Their favourite pastime was kite fighting, Amir skilfully flew, but Hassan (Jo Ben Ayed) is a skilled kite runner, collecting the “downed” kites, knowing instinctively where they will land without watching them. Kite flying in Afghanistan (Gudiparan Bazi) is a national sport and the boys were a team and their mutual love shone on our stage. Even though Amir could tease Hassan, who was illiterate, it was never cruel or spiteful.
We need to understand the love to be able to comprehend the betrayal that the play pivots around and how Amir looks for redemption throughout his life.
The story is one of human relationships and the fragility of them, the complexity of some and the ease of others. The father/son relationships compared to the husband/wife relationship that Amir has with Soraya (Amiera Darwish).
We witness a boy trying to become a man and a man unable to forgive the boy he once was. All this set on a backdrop of the fall of the Afghani monarchy, the Soviet invasion and the rise of the Taliban, with some scenes set in San Francisco, we moved in time and place and through generations with breath-taking ease. We hear Farsi spoken and wisdoms told.
And so, as the play drew to its glorious close, the audience clapped and stood and wanted more – The Kite Runner, put it on your bucket list or, alternatively, try and see it on its current tour, you won’t be disappointed.
Tickets cost from £18 to £30 (booking fees may apply).
The Kite Runner is at Buxton Opera House from 29 May to2 June 2018, for more information or to book tickets visit buxtonoperahouse.org.uk or call the box office on 01298 72190.
Buxton Opera House, Water Street, Buxton, Derbyshire, SK17 6XN | 01298 72190