The Lowry, Salford; Saturday 7th October 2017.
Author Khalid Hosseini’s 2003 best-selling novel The Kite Runner is a celebrated and revered modern story-telling masterpiece. The tale of Amir and Hassan is the heartbreaking tale of two young children who begin their lives in suburban Kabul enjoying the simplest and purest of friendships – only to have it torn apart by the poisonous influences of an adult world which has lost the plot.
The opening act portrays an evocative image of youthful enthusiasm as Amir (played by David Ahmed) part narrates and part acts out the tale of how his best friend Hassan became the finest kite runner in Kabul, and how they together won the biggest kite-running prize of them all.
But then an act of spineless betrayal by Amir ultimately leads to the collapse of the seemingly unbreakable friendship between the two boys – mirrored and synchronised with Afghanistan’s own disastrous demise towards the end of the 1970s.
Adapted for the stage by Matthew Spangler, there are scenes in this performance which are brutal and quite difficult to watch. The story may be fictional but the themes are certainly not. Credit is due to the production team for not weakening or attempting to dilute the clearly objectionable portrayals of rape, ethnic cleansing, and violent bullying – to name but a few of the issues covered.
Though the scenes are shocking to see on a theatre stage, in the context of the performance and the story being told the result can’t be described as unnecessary or deliberately provocative; the shock and horror rightly belongs where it does in the overall production. In an interview with The Telegraph in 2007, when asked about criticism from within his own Afghan-American community about the offensive content of the book, Hosseini replied: “They never say I am speaking about things that are untrue. Their beef is, ‘Why do you have to talk about these things and embarrass us? Don’t you love your country?'”
Though the performance is led by Amir as both actor and narrator, the star of the show is undoubtedly Emilio Doorgasingh – who delivers a fantastic performance as Amir’s bossy father, a man who is always right, always strong; but who is ultimately revealed by a twist in the plot to be as weak and morally vulnerable to corruption as anyone else. Doorgasingh plays his character so well that you feel towards the end that he could be your best friend, he seems like a genuine salt-of-the-earth kind of guy who you want on your side; you feel ready to forgive his mistakes and his weaknesses. Doorgasingh’s Baba feels like a real person: confronted by events that throw his life into turmoil, this is a man who got on with it and made the most of a bad situation.
The Kite Runner is a big-money production which gets it right. Careful attention has clearly been paid to how each component of the show contributes to the overall audience experience. The set is grand and illustrious but also seems relatively simple in the sense that the use of dark autumnal colours and relatively dim lighting seem to be just right for the grim story being told.
Furthermore, lengthy sections in the opening scenes involved lines being delivered in Farsi. But the quality of the body language being portrayed on stage meant that translation wasn’t needed, and the use of the native language added a sense of credence to the romantic assertion that that audience was fully involved, running through the back streets of Kabul chasing kites. All of this was enhanced even further by the beautiful atmosphere created by the presence of a live tabla player on stage throughout the show, serving to create a cosy sensation of traditional village square story-telling as Amir narrated his tale.
As a theatrical experience The Kite Runner is a first-class piece of entertainment. Even the timing of the interval (normally a frustrating interruption for a good story) was spot on, a break being introduced at a tantalising cliff-hanger-like point in the plot. The Kite Runner pulls you in and leaves you wanting more, like a good soap opera we all need to tune in again to find out what comes next.
There can be no stronger endorsement than the fact that well over half of the packed Saturday-night audience at the Lowry gave it a worthy and fully justified standing ovation.