Based on the 2003 novel The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, Matthew Spangler has now adapted this poignant and heart-breaking tale of family, friendship and the power of guilt for the stage.
After witnessing the outstanding performances of the two talented young actors in the 2007 film adaptation, there was a question of how the emotionally demanding roles would be translated onto the stage. Raj Ghatak gives an engaging, energetic performance as Amir, portraying him at three different stages of life – from childhood to adulthood. Ghatak manages to transition seamlessly from a believably childlike Amir, to an American-speaking guilt-ridden adult looking back on the course of events that led to where he is today. Jo Ben Ayed is moving as the fiercely loyal companion Hassan. I also found the choice to cast Ayed as both Hassan and his son Sorhab an extremely effective one in intensifying Amir’s guilt by being confronted with the face and voice of his childhood friend.
It could be argued that the play’s greatest strength, and a possible weakness, is the decision to explore the plot through the frame of Amir’s narration. Whilst I enjoyed Amir’s rapid changeover from participating in the action to passing comment on it, presenting the audience with the protagonist’s perspective left little room to explore other characters’ development – a missed opportunity.
Although the second act offers welcome moments of light relief as Amir and his father Baba embark upon their new life as refugees in San Francisco, ultimately it felt rushed. Though I can appreciate Spangler taking time in the opening act to explore the traumatic events of Amir’s childhood, the pace picks up considerably in the second act. Perhaps the success of the novel, can be attributed to the time granted by the medium of fiction, allowing the narrative arc to be explored with delicacy.
Spangler’s adaptation retains the key aspects of Amir’s story and approaches the dark and troubling aspects of the narrative with elegance, particularly Sorhab’s attempted suicide relayed in Amir’s own words through his retrospective narrative and direct address. The darker moments, such as the rape scene, left me feeling uneasy, as they should – Soroosh Lavasini gives a convincing and disturbing performance as Assef, the life-long villain who haunts Amir.
Croft’s stage production is simple yet effective; the use of screen projections, mimed kite flying and the live continual underscoring of tabla-player, Hanif Khan situated on the lip of the stage, all allow the audience to be transported from the Liverpool Playhouse to Kabul, to San Francisco as Amir invites the audience to join him on his life journey. On those occasions where the minimal set design could not physically manifest a location, for example Amir’s childhood home, Amir paints vivid images through his detailed narration.
Hence, one cannot help but compare this production with other adaptations of the novel. Whilst the film left me teary and emotionally drained, the play did not have the same impact. Though I desperately wanted to believe Ghatak’s tears as Amir’s story draws to a close, I struggled to do so. What was more impressive, was Ghatak’s stamina as he remains on stage for the entirety of the performance as the epicentre of the narrative.
The Kite Runner is on until 3rd March 2018 at the Liverpool Playhouse. Tickets can be purchased here.