Review: The Kite Runner (Liverpool Playhouse)

 

Reviewer: John Gregory

This stage adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s best-selling novel The Kite Runner, a co-production between the Liverpool Playhouse and the Nottingham Playhouse, was first seen locally in 2013. It was a kite that certainly flew, going on to enjoy huge success in the West End and now, five years later, it’s landed back at the Playhouse.

Matthew Spangler’s script, like Hosseini’s novel, tells an absorbing human story against a compelling backdrop of social division, religious prejudice and international conflict. Narrating the tale is Amir, a successful novelist now living with his wife in California. He recalls growing up in Afghanistan, where he was raised by his wealthy widowed father Baba. His best friend was Hassan, the son of his father’s servant Ali. They compete as a team in kite contests, with Amir flying the kite and Hassan the runner who expertly tracks its flight and retrieves it when it lands. After one such competition there is a run-in with local thug Assef which has terrible consequences. Amir is driven to commit a double act of betrayal against his friend and Hassan and his father leave the family home. A few years later Baba and Amir flee Afghanistan after Russia invades the country, travelling first to Pakistan and then to America.

Amir has never shaken off the guilt he feels over the way his relationship with Hassan ended, but he is given an unexpected chance of redemption when a dying family friend asks him to return to Afghanistan (now Taliban-controlled), where he is at last able to confront his demons, including the sinister Assef (finely played by Sorosh Lavasin).

It’s an engrossing narrative that grips, moves and excites. Raj Ghatak, who plays Amir as both a child and an adult, vividly conveys the character’s complex mix of sensitivity, selfishness and inner torment. Jo Ben Ayed is also excellent as loyal, wronged Hassan and there’s an impressive performance from Gary Pillai as Baba, an energetic extrovert who wishes his delicate, poetry-loving son were more like the athletic Hassan.

Barney George’s striking set is centred on a huge, two-section kite onto which images transporting us to different parts of the world are projected. Musician Hanif Khan adds very effectively to the production’s strong sense of location by playing the tabla – a traditional Middle Eastern percussion instrument – as the tale unfolds.

While Amir’s personal journey is very much at the centre of the play, we also gain revealing insights into the tumultuous changes which have convulsed Afghan society in recent decades. It’s great to see this enthralling, emotionally engaging production back at the Playhouse.

**** A tremendous story, superbly told

Photos: Betty Zapata

The Kite Runner continues at the Liverpool Playhouse until Saturday 3 March 2018.