REVIEW: THE KITE RUNNER (Playhouse Theatre) ★★★

Ever since being published in 2003, Khaled Hosseini’s book The Kite Runner has gone from strength to strength, having stayed as the number one New York Times bestseller for over two years, being adapted in 2007 as a film of the same name along with being turned into a graphic novel. Now returning to London by popular demand after its run at the Wyndham’s Theatre, Matthew Spangler’s stage adaptation comes to the Playhouse Theatre.

Set in 1970s Kabul, Amir (David Ahmad) depicts his life story in wanting to please his father and having to betray his childhood friend and kite running partner Hasan (Andrei Costin) as a result, forcing him to move on from this phase and travel to America in 2001. Paths cross somehow between the pair in different continents, and knowing the historical context of 2001 America it proves a powerful scenario.

I never read the book prior to watching the production, making some of the climaxes of certain dark situations involving Amir and Hasan particularly shocking. There is, however, beauty to some of the horror, particularly in the use of musical instrumentation with multiple actors swinging meditation bells and Hanif Khan playing the tabla superbly adding a sense of tranquility. Furthermore, despite the lack of set or spectacle in the costumes, the use of projections on the blinds are at times gorgeous. I usually hate projections, but its pattern laid on these shutter blinds at the back of the stage appears more like detailed tapestry rather than a simple projection.

The lack of spectacle means the driving force of Spangler’s production lies in the storytelling, led by David Ahmad. Performing on stage all the time, his performance remains sensitive in narrating the plot in what can seem like an intercontinental epic. Andrei Costin’s performance is also heartfelt in his 12-year-old presence as Hasan, with his trembling voice and innocent shaky body language making audience members sympathise for him much more.

Contrasting with the drama of Afghanistan is the OTT interpretation of America as loud, cheesy, brash and commercial heavy. Whilst this can be argued true at times, this is an uncomfortable contrast to the entirety of the first act and uneasy to settle into throughout. This makes the first half a smoother flight rather than the second, more so that the second half is longer in length.

Despite being written 14 years ago, the play remains incredibly relevant today in its themes of terrorism, betrayal and international tensions. By taking the plot from the book onto the stage, this elevates the trauma by visualising it for an audience in a live setting rather than on screen. Despite its basic nature of production values, the key to Splanger’s production lies in the heart of The Kite Runner originally – its storytelling.

Reviewed by Barry O’Reilly
Photo: Irina Chira

The Kite Runner plays at Playhouse Theatre until 26 August 2017. Tickets