Haunting and tragic, ‘The Kite Runner’ is a moving production that combines strong performances with flawless design to delve into difficult subjects without holding back. It tells the story of a boy, Amir, growing up in Afganistan alongside his best friend Hassan, the son of his father’s servant and a member of the Hazara, a persecuted race. It follows his story as he ages, eventually immigrating to America as his home country’s political climate shifts and the Taliban rises. Its story has been adapted for the stage from Khaled Hosseini’s bestselling novel by Matthew Spangler.
Despite featuring many childhood scenes, the characters are played by the same adult actors throughout the many stages of their lives. David Ahmad as Amir executes this with impressive nuance. Amir is a complicated and very flawed protagonist. I agree with a quote from adaptor Matthew Spangler noted in the program program, stating that, ‘Amir’s narrative is a plea for forgiveness—from us, as well as from himself.’ I felt the effect of his dilemma in full force throughout the play, and it made me question my sense of morals as well as his.
The most impressive performance of the evening came from Jo Ben Ayed as Hassan, Amir’s sad-eyed friend and servant. Hassan’s tragic and compelling story was augmented by his youthful physicality, which never betrayed his true age as he tiptoed across the stage shoulders hunched and eyes cast downwards. Though at times I felt that the story idealised Hassan’s servant-like faithfulness, this never detracted from Ayed’s emotional performance.
One thing I found fault with in the play was its noticeable lack of strong female roles. Its sole female principal character, Soraya, Amir’s love interest, was brought to life by Amiera Darwish. Soraya’s bold will and individuality play a positive influence on Amir’s life and attitude, but she is often proven a victim of the men in her life. Darwish carried the weight of being the only significant woman in the story with strong presence and beauty; however, I felt both her performance to be a bit stiff at times and wish that her character had been granted more authority.
The production design by Barney George was stunning and an integral part of the performance. The sloped sides of the stage made action scenes, especially during the titular kite chasing scenes, feel accelerated and giddy. Another highlight of the performance was its live music. Tabla player Hanif Khan remained onstage throughout, his rhythmic percussion complimenting each scene’s disparate mood. It is interesting to note that Khan was unfamiliar with Western sheet music and collaborated with music director Johnathan Girling to incorporate impressive traditional beats with the contemporary design of the play. Live singing and wind machines played by the actors also complimented the performance throughout.
‘The Kite Runner’ gives a personal perspective on life in the Middle East that the public does not often hear. It was the kind of performance that demands moral reflection and evokes a visceral response from its audience, leaving an impression that outlasts the final curtain.