Adapting a best selling novel for the stage is a brave move, particularly when it also follows a hit film, but Matter Spangler has managed to capture all of the potency of Khaled Hosseini’s acclaimed story with his adaptation of The Kite Runner at the Wyndham’s theatre and given depth to its complex and extraordinary characters, writes Nicky Sweetland.
The original 2003 novel has been published in over 70 countries selling over 31.5 million copies in 60 different languages, so the heart-breaking story is familiar to most and is told by Amir (Ben Turner), a refugee, who looks back at the events which have shaped his life and ultimately resulted in a need to find absolution.
Amir is a wealthy Phustan and his best friend Hassan (Andrei Costin), a poor Hazaras, who acts as a servant to the family. The pair spends their days running around the streets of Kabul, acting out fantasies and flying kites, much like any normal boyhood friends, but Afghanistan in the 1970s has a monster waiting in the wings, as the country is on the brink of war.
With a clever take on the narrative, the adult actors regress to their childhood selves, rather than using child actors to depict the brutality, which somehow, makes the horrific events, which unfold, a little more palatable.
Costin’s wide-eyed youthful looks assist in the deception, while Turner’s convincing transformation into a selfish and ignorant youth forces the audience to have some empathy towards the otherwise unlikeable and spoiled adolescent.
Turner’s performance throughout is remarkable, seamlessly switching from one emotional episode to another and commanding the stage at all times. His supporting cast is also excellent, with Nicholas Karimi suitably hateful as the thuggish Assef, while Emilio Doorgasingh as Baba, provides the perfect mix of pomposity and pride.
Eerie whistling spinners are used to make the sound of the breeze, while kite sails mark changes of scene in front of a stark cityscape. The simplicity of Barney George’s design, means the multifaceted fable is never inhibited in its intent and the pace is mostly maintained, although some of the act two dialogue could still be streamlined further to make for a shorter running time, as at two hours 45 minutes including an interval, the show feels too long.
That said, The Kite Runner offers a powerful and highly charged emotional journey for theatregoers and is a must see this season.