Review: The Kite Runner at The Playhouse Theatre (2017)

Khaled Hossenini’s award winning, international best-selling novel The Kite Runner is taken from page to stage in Matthew Spangler’s theatrical adaptation. The production returns to the West End under Giles Croft’s direction, dazzling audiences at The Playhouse Theatre for a limited season.

The Kite Runner follows the story of two young boys living in 1970’s Afghanistan, who whilst living under the same roof are worlds apart: master’s son Amir belongs to a wealthy Pahstun Sunni Muslim family and servant’s son Hassan belongs to a Hazara Shi’a Muslim family. Society says they should not mix, but the boy’s friendship, brotherly love and mutual fascination with cowboys and John Wayne draws them together. The boy’s bond is tested when bullies and war engulfs their lives. Whilst Hassan remains loyal to his dearest Amir, going to great lengths to hand deliver the iconic blue kite that his friend had triumphantly won in the famous kite fight, Amir’s loyalties are not returned. What unravels over the next 2 hours and 40 minutes is a story exploring guilt, redemption and loyalty, where friendships are tested and morals are questioned.

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The performance was a thought-through adaptation, relying heavily upon the actor playing Amir (Ben Turner’s understudy David Ahmad) as a theatrical device. Amir served as both character and narrator, with Ahmad flitting between detached adult story-teller to young schoolboy with ease. Whilst this at times worked well, keeping the story flowing along at a good pace, I personally feel that having older actors play children does not always benefit the piece. Whilst Ahmad did a good job transitioning between the different ages, his performance as a twelve-year-old boy was not always believable and sometimes felt over-acted and stereotypical. Andrei Costin on the other hand, who played Hassan, gave the role a real innocence and naivety that immediately drew audiences in and left them reeling when he is viciously assaulted by the evil Asseff, played by Nicholas Karimi.

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The Kite Runner is a story that deals with some truly tragic and awful happenings: rape, war, discrimination and death to name just a few. It is a heavy book, in the emotional sense, that left readers heart-broken with all the tragedy that befalls these young boy’s lives. The theatrical adaptation, whilst it explores these tragic key plot points, often felt like it didn’t go far enough. Whilst the novel had a gritty and unnerving edge, where one cannot help but both love and hate the flawed and selfish Amir at the same time, I felt that Croft’s production was teetering on the edge of being brilliant, but just fell short. Whilst the adaptation was very true to the book plot-wise, I ultimately felt it was a genteel adaptation that lacked grit and edge. Hossenini’s novel was an epic that moved me to tears; but Spangler’s adaptation didn’t quite grip me as much as I had hoped.

Review was written for Cheap Theatre Tickets and can also be found here: https://www.cheaptheatretickets.com/the-kite-runner/reviews/

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