Khaled Hosseini’s much-loved book is given a faithful and moving production in a highly effective adaptation by Matthew Spangler. The story of childhood friends, Hassan and Amir, it begins in the relative calm of Kabul in the mid-1970s, before the Soviet invasion. Kite flying competitions are a major event, each flyer taking out other kites until one is left flying and proclaimed the winner. Those children too poor for kites, run through alleyways and compounds to retrieve those that have fallen, they are the kite runners. Hassan and Amir are from the either sides of social and religious division, Amir a bookish Pashtun, and Hassan the Hazara son of the family’s faithful servant. On the day that Amir wins the kite flying competition, Hassan retrieves the fallen kite for his friend, but he is attacked and raped by the local bully and psychopath Assef. That Amir witnesses it and doesn’t intervene, and then commits further acts of cowardice, causes his guilt to drive Hassan and his father away. Decades later, with Afghanistan now raped by successive invading forces, Amir is given an opportunity to return to his homeland and commit an act of reconciliation by rescuing Sohrab, Hassan’s son, from the Taliban.
Readers of the book will now that, like the best childhood stories, that this is no cosy tale of friendship, the world they come to live in shattering their innocence. Emotionally the material is like a kite, soaring to heights of hope and then flailing down to despair and horror. Our personal kite runner is Amir, an excellent and sustained performance by Ben Turner, moving easily between child and adult, narrator and protagonist, always on stage and leading us through the story’s many twists with emotional intensity. As Hassan and then Sohrab, Andrei Costin is outstanding, a believable child caught up in unimaginable horror. Nicholas Karimi is chillingly good as the psychopathic Assef, and Emilio Doorgasingh wonderful as Baba, Amir’s father, who we discover committed many acts of heroism with quiet dignity and passion. In fact, the whole ensemble are good, with simple and well-crafted storytelling being the main focus. With Barney George’s set providing an effective canvas for the tale to unfold, and some beautiful tabla from Hanif Khan, little distracts from the delivery of this epic story.
I have some minor reservations, the fight sequences lack power, and the pace dips a little after the interval, as does the story. But it builds to a hugely emotional climax, and you may need a tissue! In our fearful times, The Kite Runner offers an open palm of reconciliation and hope. I would advise you to take it.