Brighton Festival 2013
In a divided country on the verge of war, childhood friends Amir and Hassan are about to be torn apart. As the skies above Kabul fill with the excitement and joy of a kite-flying tournament, neither of the boys can foresee what will happen to Hassan that afternoon — an event that will shape their lives into a web of betrayal, guilt and reconciliation.
It is not often I give a standing ovation during a night at the theatre and it is even more infrequent that I am moved to tears by a live performance. Yet, at The Kite Runner last night I found myself doing both things simultaneously, along with the majority of the audience in the Theatre Royal. It was clear how much this talented cast deserved the praise and it was also humbling to see how moved they were by the show’s reception.
The Kite Runner is a stage adaptation of the bestselling book that bears the same name. The excellent story of the novel has no small part to play in the success of this production, but it is of course entirely possible to butcher a masterpiece by putting it on stage, which I am happy to say is the opposite in this case. It is an epic tale, spanning decades and continents, and this adaptation tackles the challenge with aplomb, telling a heartbreaking, almost unbearably painful story of guilt, cowardice and love.
The set was minimal, with just a floor cloth and some odd bits of furniture brought in and out by the cast. It was simple and effective – the story provided all the necessary drama, so there was no call for spectacle. White cloths, reminiscent of kites, marked the scene changes; they billowed up and down and were projected with subtle images to delineate various locations.
Another lovely element of this production was the live, onstage tabla player, Hanif Khan. His music underscored the entire production with exquisite subtlety. Filling the theatre with sound as the audience took their seats, he blended effortlessly into the background once the play began, with the beautiful gift of one who is wholly visible yet unseen. Playing nearly all the time, and fully in my line of sight, he provide no distraction whatsoever, and his music added beauty and depth to every scene.
Then there was the cast. A group of players linked by a narrator, Amir, they were chameleons, adopting various individual and chorus-style roles. Most notable was the actor playing Amir, Ben Turner. Never leaving the stage, he was the glue that held this production together, variously narrating his story and jumping into the action, playing a twelve-year-old boy one moment, a gawky twenty-something the next. He was a powerful performer, and played out his heartbreaking guilt and betrayal carefully, subtly, but very movingly. Also very strong as a performer was the young actor playing Hassan and Sohrab, Farshid Rokey. He expertly captured the quiet love and devotion that made Hassan who he was, as well as the characteristics of the eager, broken boy Sohrab, whose quiet hurt had the tears rolling down my cheeks.
This is not a play that shies away from the big things – it humanises the story of one Afghan family, fleeing first from the Russians and then being destroyed by the Taliban. I felt that this play does the tough job of bringing home some of the realities of what has happened and what continues to happen to ordinary people in the Middle East; something all to easy to forget when there is such a barrage of impersonal news reports filling our screens on a daily basis.
This production is impossibly hard to watch at times, yet too captivating to turn away from. It has clearly benefited from a committed and passionate creative team on every level, and I won’t say beg, borrow or steal a ticket, as there is little doubt that this show will be on in a West End theatre for years to come.