The Kite Runner: a review of Nottingham Playhouse and Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse’s co-production

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The Kite Runner is one of those books that has been on my to be read pile for a long while (along with other Khaled Hosseini’s novels) having heard that they’re must-reads but for whatever reason, I’ve never got round to actually reading them. When I saw that this adaptation by Matthew Spangler was touring to my local theatre (Theatr Clwyd) I first thought that I’d give it a miss given that I’d not read the book and I’m usually firmly in the book was better club when it comes to novel adaptations, although mostly that applies to cinematic adaptations. But then I thought to myself why the heck am I letting the opportunity to see this critically acclaimed play that’s actually being shown at my local theatre pass me by? And so I booked and quickly put the book at the top of my tbr pile. Because I knew that personally, I’d want to know whether the play did the source material justice. Plus, I think sometimes it can be a good thing for anyone with some form of anxiety/ mental health problems to have an idea of subject matters and themes beforehand as it allows you to prepare yourself in advance.

The Kite Runner is a tale of friendship between Amir and Hassan (his kite runner), coming of age and redemption set amidst the political climate of war-torn Afghanistan. It explores the history, religion and politics of a country most of us feel we know something about when perhaps we actually don’t know enough. However at the heart of it is a tale that is more relatable of how events in our past can affect our futures and shape who we think we are as human beings and the lengths we’re willing to go to right our wrongs and honour friendships.

I found the play to be very true to the book and it translated well onto the stage and although the story was somewhat simplified it didn’t miss anything pivotal. But for anyone who hasn’t read the book, the play is just as engaging and moving in its own right.

This production as directed by Giles Croft is a theatrical masterclass in storytelling and ensemble work. Staged in such a way that oozes creativity from the cast and creatives. Apart from Amir (Raj Ghatak), the narrator and principal cast member, the rest of the cast play multiple roles and even sing (offstage) and play instruments (more on this in a bit.) It really asks an audience to really suspend their disbelief. In particular with Amir, where one minute he is our older narrator and the next he’s a child in the 1980s again, without leaving the stage or so much as a costume change and only his body language and change from American to Afghani accent to distinguish between them. And it absolutely works. Isn’t theatre wonderful?

Although this production relies on much narration, allowing Khaled Hosseini’s words to come to life and tell the story, the cast working as an ensemble really help fill in the colouring book of those images (see what I did there?). And whilst I am a fan of this adaptation and the way it was brought to life on stage what I will say is that with narration that is so reliant on events being heard and not seen it would have been great to see some captioned or signed performances being included to allow more people to be able to appreciate this show to its fullest. Especially as sometimes the narration is spoken over live instruments.

I enjoyed how the set (designed by Barney George) incorporated kites to help the simple yet effective scene changes. Complimented by Charles Balfour’s lighting design and William Simpson’s projection design that really helped transport the audience across the decades and continents.

Movement director Kitty Winter’s choreography is also beautifully executed, particularly during the kite fighting scenes combining great timing, imagination and prop work by the ensemble.

But the big stand out for me was the soundtrack composed by Jonathan Girling. It really helps transport you to the East with mind-boggling live Tabla playing by Hanif Kahn which also helps build suspense in certain scenes. A variety of other Eastern instruments are also played live by the ensemble to really bring the drama and emotion to life, such as the Tibetan Singing Bowls, which are used as Jonathan explains on The Kite Runner website ‘to represent the sound of blood rushing around your ears, that sense of panic when you’re faced with a situation you can’t handle, or when fear literally freezes you to the spot.’ The Schwirrbogen (those oversized football rattles, which sound nothing like rattles) are also a great addition in creating the sound of the wind as the kites fly.

Overall I thought this show was an excellent piece of theatre that really combined the creativity of cast, creatives and crew. As well as doing the novel justice. If you’ve read the book and loved it, then I’d really recommend it. Heck, I recommend it even if you haven’t read the book and simply want to get lost in great storytelling. Although do be aware that it depicts some dark themes, which might be quite distressing.

You can find out more about the current tour of The Kite Runner by Nottingham Playhouse and Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse at thekiterunnerplay.com/

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