Following an outstanding run at London’s West End, The Kite Runner has landed in Birmingham and it is one of the most enthralling yet haunting productions I’ve seen on stage.
Adapted by Matthew Spangler from Afghan-American Khaled Hosseini’s bestselling novel of the same name, The Kite Runner tells a powerful father-son story of redemption, spanning several countries and generations. It’s a powerful story that has already translated well onto a successful film, but after a raft of positive reviews for its West End run, the production has gone on a UK tour.
The story is focused around Amir, the son of a wealthy merchant, whose best friend Hassan is the son of Amir’s father’s servant. Both outsiders, Amir feels his father is embarrassed by him, and Hassan is Hazara, an ethnic group considered by some, including the local bully Assef, to be inferior. During one encounter, Assef threatens Amir but Hassan stands up to him, threatening to shoot out his eye with his slingshot.
Amir and Hassan are a talent duo when it comes to kites; during the annual kite fighting tournament, Amir proves victor, finally winning the approval of his father, who he calls Baba. As Hassan runs to collect the final defeated kite as a trophy for Amir, the local bully Assef finds him. Hassan refuses to give up the kite and Assef retaliates by beating severely and raping him. Amir witnesses the assault but is too scared to intervene. Rather than deal with his cowardice, Amir attempts to frame Hassan for stealing. But Hassan falsely confesses to the theft, as a final act of love for his friend. Baba immediately forgives Hassan, but Ali decides he and Hassan must leave.
Five years later, political disruption in Afghanistan leads to Amir and Baba escaping, eventually gaining asylum in America. Previously a wealthy merchant, Baba is reducing to working menial jobs and selling used goods at a flea market. It’s there where Amir meets Soraya Taheri, who he falls in love with and eventually marries. Baba is diagnosed with terminal cancer, and not long after Amir and Soraya marry, dies.
One day, Amir receives a call from his father’s best friend, who informs him that Hassan was in fact Baba’s son and therefore Amir’s half-brother, but the reason for letting him know now is that Hassan’s son has been orphaned by the Taliban in Afghanistan. He pleads with him to rescue him, which Amir reluctantly agrees to. On arrival at the orphanage, Amir is told a Taliban official comes to the orphanage and takes away a child, recently it was Sohrab, Hassan’s child. Amir meets the man, who is revealed to be Assef, his childhood bully, who won’t give up Sohrab without Amir agreeing to fight. Assef badly beats Amir, but Sohrab fires a slingshot at him, hurting him sufficiently to allow Amir and Sohrab to escape.
Back in Pakistan, Amir tells Sohrab of his plans to adopt him and take him back to America. But bureaucracy throws some problems and terrified of being returned to an orphanage, Sohrab attempts suicide. Eventually, Amir manages to get Sohrab back to America but the boy refuses to interact with anyone until Amir reminisces about Hassan and shows off his kite skills.
Published in 2003, the Kite Runner novel was critically acclaimed and featured on many bestseller lists. The 2007 movie means that the story will be familiar to many more people too, but this play does a fine job at condensing the story onto the screen. Understandably some elements and nuances are lost, but never the less, the actors bring this powerful and heartbreaking story to life.
Seeing Amir’s betrayal of Hassan, who has shown him nothing but loyalty is truly gut-wrenching; Jo Ben Ayed portrayal of Hassan’s love for his best friend is played with a sweet innocence which only serves to break the heart of the audience. Raj Ghatak, who plays Amir, barely leaves the stage and whose stamina must be commended, is less likeable but that may well be the uncomfortable result of being somewhat of an anti-hero. Props and stage design are used sparingly, but effective, the kites looking almost like birds. On stage for most of the play, musician Hanif Khan adds further charisma and life to the play.
Emotionally intense, yet utterly enchanting, it is impossible not to captivated and affected by this marvellous play. Go see it.
Sadly, The Kite Runner has now left Birmingham but the play continues on its UK tour. To find out where it’s playing next, visit http://thekiterunnerplay.com