Wednesday, 11 March 2020

REVIEW: The Kite Runner at the Richmond Theatre

After a successful West End outing in 2017 this wonderful production is setting out on a UK regional Playhouse tour bringing the touching story to wider audiences and I urge you to go and see it. Khaled Hosseini's best selling novel was published in 2003 and has been adapted for the stage by Matthew Spangler and directed by Giles Croft. Set in Afghanistan and America it focus on the dominant male society in contrast with its follow up novel and play A thousand Splendid Suns which explores the country's female society.

At the heart of this story is the touching heartbreaking father and son story of Amir, with David Ahmed reprising his West End role with a powerful emotional intensity and his traditional formal wealthy father Baba played by Dean Rahman. The events are recalled by Amir as a refugee in California, through direct narration to the audience and has plenty of twists, turns and shocks that ramp up the emotional connection with his family. The family incidents also reflect the events in Afghanistan with declaration as a republic, first soviet invasion and occupation in the eighties, the emergence of the Taliban in the nineties and the U.S./British in the decade that followed which force Baba and Amir to escape to Pakistan and the U.S.

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 in Act 1 is the setting in Afghanistan which starts in the mid-'70s, 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, especially the son of his father’s servant, Hassan, played as a loyal friend to Amir by Andrei Costin. This seemingly unusual relationship between two different social backgrounds attracts the attention of Assef, played with violent menace by Bhavin Bhatt, a local bully who emerges later as a Taliban terrorist.

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 plain rug centre stage on which are projected ethnic designs and two large kite shapes hanging that provide a screen for projections to create the various locations. The opening sequence shows the kite competition taking place which Amir aspires to win to impress his father with his friend Hassan who is the best kite runner (someone who collects the fallen kites from the competition). 

The atmosphere and tension is underlined by the rhythmic tabla playing of Hanif Khan, the gentle rubbing of the edge bowls and the handheld 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 it 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. Dean Rehman engages the audience beautifully with his affection for Hussan, his despair and bravery as they escape Afghanistan and his final battle with illness. 

This is a wonderful play bringing understanding of the human stories of refugees and the context of the countries they leave. It is what theatre does better than any other media, an escape from the local news, and emotionally engaging entertainment and an education about a different culture and time.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★★★
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