Turning a novel such as The Kite Runner in to a theatre production was never going to be easy. Spanning almost a lifetime, three countries and the tumultuous
events of recent Afghan history, The Kite Runner covers a lot of ground, as well as several events logistically and ethically difficult to convert to the West Yorkshire Playhouse.Matthew Spangler’s theatrical version does a commendable job of staying true Khaled Hosseini’s book. The story follows Amir, a wealthy Pashtun living with his father in their extravagant house, and his childhood friendship with his Hazara servant, Hassan. The pair grow up together and win their local kite fighting competition as a team, but their society’s religious and ethical segregation eventually forces a gulf between them. Although Amir makes a new life for himself in America, he must return to his home country to make amends for his past mistakes.
“The most convincing performance comes from villain Assef, whose frenzied speeches are genuinely terrifying.”
Ben Turner plays Amir as both a wide-eyed child and as a reflective adult. His sudden fluctuations between contrasting personas is disconcerting at first, but becomes easier to keep up with as the play continues. More disappointing was Andrei Costin’s portrayal of the loyal and faithful Hassan; his attempts at innocent and naïve childlikeness felt overly contrived, like a character out of a Cbeebies show. He ultimately failed to represent the emotional depth of potentially the most heartrending character in the story. Emilio Doorgasingh as Amir’s father, Baba, showed the most emotional range across the play – the scenes in which he battles with cancer are some of the most emotional in the production.
The show’s most convincing performance however comes in the form of villain Assef (Nicholas Karimi), school bully-turned-murderous Taliban official, whose increasingly frenzied and incensed speeches are genuinely terrifying and hair-raising.
The play, like the book itself, is intensely emotional. More moving scenes weret never overly drawn out or too manufactured, allowing simple traditional music accompaniment and the characters themselves to create the emotional impact.
However, the play runs through the events of the novel at a rather rapid speed, and there is never really enough time dedicated to fully exploring their impact, despite a hefty two and a half hours running time. Such truncation inevitable in adapting such an action packed novel and doing justice to its scale, but more time should have been given over to dialogue and character development, rather than just simply playing out the events of the plot.
“The stage does not have the same scope as the page, and this play tries to match the novel too perfectly”
Nevertheless there were some ingenious theatrical devices employed in order to deal with the more practical problems of representing the story. Amir acted as a semi-narrator throughout the play, reciting passages from the novel itself, and this helped to evoke a sense of setting without the need for actual physical scenery, and the set was excellently crafted. Two large drapes which changed colours and patterns throughout helped to signal the changes in setting, as did a shifting rug on the floor.
The Kite Runner was a wildly successful book, and there was always going to be immense pressure on any adaptation to live up to the original. Although the play stays faithful to the novel, further deviation from the book would have made this production more successful. The stage does not have the same scope as the page, and by trying to match the novel too perfectly, the play ultimately ends up lessening the impact of this eternally compelling and heartbreaking story.
Image: West Yorkshire Playhouse