Tuesday, 27 June 2017

REVIEW: The Kite Runner at The Playhouse Theatre

At the heart of this wonderful production is the touching heartbreaking story of Amir, played with emotional intensity by David Ahmed and his relationship with his traditional distant wealthy father Baba played by Emilio Doorgasingh and the son of his father’s servant, Hassan, played as a devout friend by Andrei Costin. The audience are moved to tears as the story unfolds and we learn more about their relationships and the impact on them of the society they live in. What elevates this tale is the setting in Afghanistan which starts in the mid 70's, a relatively peaceful time in the country’s history and the fact that Baba and Amir are Pashtun Sunni Muslims and the servants are from the Hazara Shia sect which attracts the attention of Assef, played with menace by Bhavin Bhatt,a local thug who emerges over time as a Jihadi terrorist.

It perhaps helps that I was not familiar with either Khaled Hosseini's novel published in 2003 or the 2007 film. Therefore in this adaption by Mathew Spangler, the events from his past that Amir recalls as a refugee in California, through direct narration to the audience, provide twists , turns and shocks that ramp up the emotional connection with his family . The family incidents also reflect the events in Afghanistan with first soviet invasion and occupation in eighties, the emergence of the Taliban in the nineties and the U.S. / British in
the decade that followed which drive Amir and Hassan apart and then force Baba and Amir to escape to Pakistan and the U.S.

The production is simply set with a row of uprights that seem to double as rocky outcrops in Afghanistan and skyscrapers in U.S., a simple rug centre stage on which are projected designs and two large kite shapes that provide a screen for projections to create different locations. The opening sequence shows the kite competition taking place which Amir aspires to win and Hassan is the best kite runner (who collects the fallen kites). It is effectively staged, although the later main kite competition relies on our imagination of the kites fighting over the auditorium. 

The atmosphere and tension is underlined by the rhythmic ethnic tabla playing of Hanif Khan, the gentle rubbing of the edge bowls and the hand held wind machines introduced by the cast during key scenes. 

This is a production that relies on the central performances of the three key
characters. David Ahmad is on stage virtually throughout and is a commanding performance even as he plays his younger self in the early scenes. Despite his cowardice we still empathise with his dilemmas. Andrei Costin as first Hassan and later Sohrab, Hassan’s son is inspiring with his loyalty and devotion, as he struggles against racism and bullying. While Emilio Doorgasingh engages the audience beautifully with his affection for Hussan, his despair and bravery as they escape Afghanistan and his final battle with illness. Gradually we have revealed the guilt about Hassan that drives both father and son.

This is a play that deserves a second West End run, wider exposure and understanding and should be a set text for all schools to bring understanding of the human stories of refugees and the context of the countries they leave. 

Review by Nick Wayne

Rating: ★★★★★

Click here to book tickets 
Blog Design by pipdig