Chris Eldon Lee reviews “The Kite Runner”, which is at Birmingham Rep until Saturday October 4th and then Shrewsbury’s Theatre Severn from October 20th to 25th
Watching ‘The Kite Runner’ being performed live on stage is a hugely uplifting experience.
Khaled Hosseini’s wonderfully poignant book about two boys from either side of Afghan society growing up together has sold 25 million copies world wide and been seen by even more cinema goers. But the sheer power of a handful of excellent actors telling the story directly to you has an irresistible, enveloping intimacy that left me glowing inside – despite the soggy tissues.
The storyteller is “Casualty’s” Ben Turner who, as the high class Amir, relates in lowly language his deep-felt regret for the betrayal of his best friend and servant, Hassan. One cowardly decision, made in fear, has haunted him ever since and now he wants to confess.
Simplicity is the essence of this show. Amir’s considerable narration faithfully preserves Hosseini’s perfect prose. Beautiful descriptions of the kite flying festival are played out with intricate mime, yet more tissue paper and handheld wind machines. Tapestries projected onto draped silk and a ‘magic’ carpet, subtly depict the scene changes. And commensurate, cross-legged Hanif Khan enhances the action with his frantic tabla and ethereal ringing bowls. With writing as good as this, that’s all you need to completely captivate a full house.
Ben Turner is both magnificent and matter-of-fact, drawing the audience right down to his feet. Andrei Costin (making his professional UK stage debut) plays his pitiful companion with warmth, grace and fateful knowing; a slender boy and a pillar of truth. The servants’ loyal sacrifice at the bus station had me welling up.
The book was written in the aftermath of 9/11 and the stage production doesn’t hesitate to face up to the politics. Hosseini even-handedly explains the tensions between Sunni and Shia and tradition and progress. When he takes us deep inside the terrorist’s lair, he allows the Taliban thugs (unexpectedly finding themselves with the upper hand) to make their point. Nicholas Karimi is a towering menace as the bullyboy Assef who is radicalised by hate.
The famous advice to authors seeking authenticity is “write what you know”. In Hosseini’s story, Amir wants to be a writer too. “Sad stories make good books”, his tutor tells him. In this case, they also make an exceptionally beautiful play.
The great news for Shropshire is this production is touring to Shrewsbury’s Theatre Severn in October. I suspect it’ll be the highlight of the year.
Visit www.theatresevern.co.uk for bookings & information about Theatre Severn