Written By: Graeme Williams
Date: February 27 2018
Location: Playhouse Theatre, Liverpool
It doesn’t snow often in Liverpool, but it snowed the day Matthew Spangler’s adaption of Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner opened at the Playhouse. Hanif Khan paddled away at the tabla on the edge of the stage as the audience crowded in the warm theatre, and took their seats – he’d continue to offer a rhythmic underscore to help drive the scenes for the duration of the show. He stopped, provoking an applause, but as the lights went down, a silence crept into the room.
We’re introduced to Amir (Raj Ghatak) as he plays in 1970s Afghanistan, with Hassan (Jo Ben Ayed), during a time of relative calm in their county, although always under a cloud of political tension. Amir is the son of a successful business man, and Hassan the son of his servant. The two were born a year apart, were raised together, and always played together as friends. Although, if Amir was honest, he never really saw Hassan as a ‘friend’.
Ghatak handles the interchange between his narration, and his depiction of Amir growing up with consummate ease, and the bond between Amir, and the endearing Hassan, is portrayed with a genuine warmth, and joy. The performances of both men kept the audience engaged, as they played cowboys, watched American films, and ran kites through the streets of Kabul. The bond that has developed between the boys is eventually challenged by one terrible event, which ultimately alters the course of both of their lives.
The Kite Runner touches upon a number of themes, as loyalty, jealousy, betrayal, and guilt are all explored in a tale that culminates in an opportunity for redemption. Amir considers himself an unfortunate victim of these, until he is forced to face his demons, and accept his role in what has unfolded.
The set is design is a simple city skyline against a blue lambent, which seamlessly bleeds with different colours, as the story advances through each scene, and across continents. The lighting used is minimalist, yet effective, and leaves the onus predominately on the actors to help navigate the story. Accompanying the sparse sound effects, and live tabla, are Tibetan Singing Bowls, and Schwirrbogen (large, wooden rattles), played by cast members, to help create a sense of the swirling of winds, of kites, and even of thoughts.
Giles Croft’s direction is breathless and intense, and sensitively handles the subject matter. The stage is relentlessly busy, to the merit of Croft, and to the cast, who each deliver an impactful contribution, while no individual stands out in particular. The dialogue is concise and engaging, and there were a lot of genuine laughs from the audience, and at times, a few genuine gasps.
On reflection, Hosseini’s The Kite Runner is a haunting, yet hopeful story, that is deserving of a faithful adaptation. Thankfully, this production doesn’t disappoint, delivering for its audience, which offered huge applause and standing ovation. I could hear people buzzing with excitement, and discussing what they had just seen, as we poured out of the theatre, and back out into the cold.
Overall Rating: 8/10 – Very Good