Review | The Kite Runner, Richmond Theatre ⋆⋆⋆⋆

‘The Kite Runner’ centres on Amir (David Ahmad), an Afghan-American, as he recalls a defining moment in his childhood which has shaped his life and the man he’s grown to become.

The first question you’d probably like an answer to is whether the stage adaptation is any good compared to the book by Khaled Hosseini. Well unfortunately, I read the book so long ago that I couldn’t confidently say much on this. I also haven’t watched the film adaptation so wouldn’t be able to comment on how the two mediums compare. Now that we’ve got that out the way, I’d like to focus on why ‘The Kite Runner’ is a worthy stage production in its own right.

This piece brings colour to Afghanistan’s culture and history through its rich production design and its captivating storytelling. Hanif Khan begins the show by playing a drum called the Tabla which subtly lulls the audience out of Richmond and to the world where the story unfolds. For UK audiences, there woefully aren’t many pieces like this one which are devoted to sharing stories from Afghanistan’s history, pre-9/11.

At the start, we journey back to Afghanistan’s capital city, Kabul in the 1970s; the monarchy has been overthrown and Afghanistan has become a republic. Ahmad as Amir self-narrates his childhood switching with surprising ease between his dual roles of providing commentary on his life and acting as himself as a child.

You could say that a love triangle develops between our three central characters. Amir craves paternal love from his Baba (Dean Rehman) and holds a great deal of respect for him. Hassan (sweetly played by Andrei Costin), the son of the house servant, displays unwavering loyalty to Amir but Amir never quite reciprocates this. Amir’s father seems to have an endless supply of warmth and admiration for Hassan. On the other hand, Baba appears to be mostly disappointed in Amir and his love of story-telling.

Amir and Hassan share a love for a kite fighting and the kite flying scenes are staged brilliantly in this show. The production doesn’t rely on projections but the ensemble cast fly makeshift kites made of white cloth. These are circled in the air, resembling peaceful doves. During the suspenseful kite fighting competition scene, director Giles Croft employs a creative use of blocking so that the audience has to use its imagination to capture how the kites compete in the sky.

What’s makes ‘The Kite Runner’ a difficult show to watch is that Amir isn’t your typical likeable protagonist. Within Afghanistan’s cultural context, we see Amir come up against dilemmas where his strength of character is put to the test at a young age. Riddled by a toxic mix of fear and guilt, he makes a series of arguably flawed decisions which haunts him thereafter. During the play, it’s possible to empathise with Amir but we long to see whether he can redeem himself. This makes the future events which unravel all the more harrowing to see.

‘The Kite Runner’ provides a piercing insight into Afghanistan’s shifting landscape over the past few decades and its various shades. There is a lot of heart and hope but we also see these class divisions, ethnic tensions and the harassment faced by the Hazara’s overtime, the ethnic minority group which Hassan is a part of. In our times, where our attention seems mostly drawn to reading stories which have been neatly packaged for us, ‘The Kite Runner’ adds much needed dimension to the stories of people who aren’t often discussed and shared. This is definitely one to see, regardless of whether you’ve read the book or seen the film.

Photo Credit: Betty Laura Zapata

The Kite Runner is running at the Richmond Theatre until 14 March before continuing on its UK tour.

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