The Kite Runner – Playhouse Theatre until 26th August
Review By Franco Milazzo
At one point in The Kite Runner, taxi driver Farid says “I don’t think there is a more Afghan way to die than stepping on a mine.” Or, indeed, live. The role may be one of the smallest but these are the words which perfectly express how pinioned all the play’s characters are by their circumstances, be it their race, their wealth, their gender or their location.
Based on the best-seller by Khaled Hosseini and adapted for the stage by Matthew Spangler, the plot follows Amir from his early days in Afghanistan through to his adult life in the United States. His childhood friend and the son of his father’s servant is Hassan, a Hazara (as opposed to Amir’s more privileged Pashtun status). A local bully picks on the pair and his violent actions – especially against Hassan – lay the bedrock for this play’s events.
This particular version of the play first saw light last December at Wyndham’s Theatre (Read Caroline’s original review HERE) and arrives at the Playhouse with David Ahmad playing the protagonist. He does so with sensitivity and nuance but not enough charisma to grab our attention throughout. That’s a shame as Amir is the only character with any decent arc; the others are lucky if they have more one dimension.
There are many atmospheric touches – not least the insistent drumming of tabla player Hanif Khan – but, as with many page-to-stage productions lasting less than six hours, the subtext here lacks subtlety and, once the appropriate level of exposition has been laid out, melodrama takes priority over niceties like actual drama.
The more memorable first act covers months of Amir’s life and, once the Soviets move in and Amir ships out, the plot points come thick and fast at speeds even American soap operas would admire: the first act sees some facing off and the infamous rape, whereas the other two are packed with an attempted suicide, a brutal fight scene and a variety of deaths caused by cancer, bombing and gunshot. Coincidences and revelations come by the bundle and there’s a feeling that, amidst all the muscular action, there is not enough dramatic cartilage to convincingly connect the events together.
What this play lacks in terms of a leading man and writing, it makes up for in the performances of the ensemble. Emilio Doorgasingh is a formidable Baba, the rich trader who sets a strong moral example for his son Amir. Karl Seth takes on three very different roles with aplomb and consummate skill while veteran actor Ravi Aujla makes for a terrifying figure as Amir’s father-in-law General Taheri. As the “baddie”, Bhavin Bhatt does especially well in creating such a chillingly depraved portrayal of the bully Assef.
Spangler’s take on The Kite Runner looks and sounds beautiful but, in keeping close to the contrived plot and vivid atmosphere of the book, this adaption has missed out on what made that smash hit so vital. While the play follows the timeline of the book, it doesn’t discover the same human factor amid the numerous disasters that befall Amir, his family and his friends. No matter how authentic the music or the language is, the script’s flatness fails to give us a deep enough understanding of the very people who, though stuck in their circumstances, struggle hard and long to achieve greater heights.