The Kite Runner Review | The Lowry | Manchester
“I guess some stories do not need telling”
Before the show begins, Hamid Khan plays the tabla live on the Lowry stage, highlighting the rustic, natural performance that sets the tone of Giles Croft’s direction. Utilising the tabla throughout the narrative to underscore the actor’s gestures and keep the production grounded, the earnest stage creation offers audiences a heartfelt story of redemption.
Published in 2003, The Kite Runner is about Afghan-American, Amir (David Ahmad) who relates how his life has been shaped by childhood trauma and political forces. Now living in California, Amir recalls his privileged childhood in Afghanistan where he was raised by his father, Baba and Hassan, the son of his father’s servant. Amir’s inseparable relationship with the persecuted Hazara, Hassan (Jo Ben Ayed) fuels the play's themes of betrayal, guilt and redemption, but its story is far from simplistic. The character-driven novel has an emotional pull that is broken into three parts and spins a small circle of characters that recurrently interlink with Amir’s personal tale spanning several decades.
The Kite Runner is a complicated story to adapt as it balances an intimate first-person narrative alongside the conservative shifts that shape Afghanistan today. When The Kite Runner was released as a film in 2007 it removed its narrator, delivering scenes from the novel within a glossy montage. The child actors delivered dry performances of the few words spoken and the stories cutting commentary on the effects of war, family and culture were scarcely captured. Fortunately, Matthew Spangler’s adaption preserves Khaled Hossein’s novel, with director Giles Croft offering a more relatable and successful stage interpretation that relies on its adult leads maintaining their roles from children to adults. This stripped-back production delivers the story in a simplistic and honest portrayal using a silhouetted background that doubles as Afghanistan and California. Injecting projections to represent the wings of the kites, the productions use of live music, minimal props and its cast playing multiple roles, keeps the show fast-paced and honest.
It is important that we understand and hear other perspectives and part of the joy in Spangler’s production is how easy the live show is to replicate. I can picture the complex narrative being told in schools and acted out by students who will gain a better understanding of the struggles of refugees. Unfortunately, this adaptation does not include much spoken dialogue and is heavily narrated by its lead, Ahmad who never leaves the stage. Considering the amount of action that takes place within the story, the production resembles an excellently narrated audiobook, but offers little in terms of visual spectacle.
The Kite Runner is an important story to tell, capturing fragmented family bonds that can never truly be repaired. It is not a quixotic narrative and I respect the stage adaptation for not exploiting the emotional pulls of the novel’s darker scenes. It is a tasteful rendition that pulled focus on Amir’s personal struggle, the way the novel intended. But for those who already know the story, the play fails to vividly portray Amir’s city, the bazaars and the splendour of the kites.