It was with some curiosity that I went along last night to see The Kite Runner. I loved the book and thought the film was a pretty faithful rendition of the story but I was intrigued to see how the reader’s imagination and the panorama of the big screen translated to the confines of the stage. I was engrossed from the start. My friend, who had neither read the book nor seen the film, was equally absorbed by the story of two boys growing up in Afghanistan in the 1970s. Hassan and his father Ali are servants to Amir and his father Baba and the two families have been connected for over 40 years.
Kite flying is a national sport in Afghanistan and Hassan is an outstanding kite runner. When Amir wins a kite fighting festival, where one kite cuts an opposing kite’s string, Hassan sets off to bring back the defeated kite for Amir. When Hassan doesn’t return, Amir goes to look for his friend. He finds Hassan being confronted by the district bully and hides in fear while Hassan is raped. The resulting shame and Amir’s guilt of not standing up for his friend, colours the relationship between the boys although Hassan remains unswervingly loyal to Amir.
As the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and their treatment of the wealthy upper class becomes intolerable, Amir and Baba escape, first to Pakistan and then to America. As an adult, Amir responds to a call from Afghanistan offering him ‘the chance to be good again’ and returns to rescue Hassan’s orphaned son, Sohrab. He learns that Hassan was in fact his half-brother and that Sorhab is his nephew. He takes the traumatised boy back to live in America.
There are many themes running through the play. The themes of racism, religious difference, class difference and jealousy together with the importance of personal courage and honour explored in this play, put a human face on the complicated political landscape of the region.
Ben Turner who plays Amir is on stage for the entire play and his performance is quite astonishing. He switches between being the child Amir with a Afghani accent, to narrating the play as an adult with an American accent. He maintains an emotional intensity and depth throughout the performance which is compelling to watch. The cast overall is strong and all give excellent performances. The set is simple but extremely effective. The fence palings in Kabul, turn into the tower block skyline in the American scenes, and the backdrop of projected images mean there is no tedious movement of props and scenery to break the mood or continuity.
This is an absorbing and thought provoking play, and although it is quite dark in places, the audience last night gave it an emphatic thumbs-up.