The Kite Runner – Review – Sheffield Lyceum
By Helen Johnston, October 2017
Tension builds to the beat of the tabla drums in this sweeping tale of loyalty, betrayal and guilt set to the backdrop of political turbulence in Afghanistan.
Two motherless young boys grow up together, playing with their kites and chattering in Farsi, often unaware that one is the servant of the other. Then the Hazara servant boy Hassan is the victim of extreme sexual violence, witnessed by his young master Amir, and their friendship is ripped apart.
Amir and his father Baba (Emilio Doorgasingh) eventually flee Kabul for San Francisco as the Taliban move in, making any chance of a later reconciliation seem lost.
This stage adaptation by Matthew Spangler is faithful to Khaled Hosseini’s 2003 novel, an unflinching portrayal of barbarity and cowardice.
“Loyalty and bravery”
In an astonishing performance, David Ahmad is the privileged Amir, wracked with guilt for the rest of his life over his failure to act and protect his friend.
Ahmad is narrator as well as playing both the boy and adult Amir, requiring him to be constantly on stage, switching between a young Farsi accent and an older American one. It’s a triumph of stamina and the ability to learn endless lines.
At times, the play seems narration-heavy, particularly in the second half, but it’s a useful device for filling in the back story of the action we see on stage. Jo Ben Ayed plays Hassan with perfect downcast humility, making his loyalty and bravery in the face of terror truly remarkable, and all the more unbearable for the audience.
When he and his father decide to leave Baba’s home, the sadness is palpable.
Seeing grown men playing the child versions of themselves appeared a bit clumsy at first, but it worked well as an allegory for the way Amir had never been able to shake the childhood fears which haunted him still.
Bhavin Bhatt is Assef, the violent rapist who later joins the Taliban and inflicts more suffering on orphaned children. Bhatt commands the stage, his voice barking rage and savagery, compelling the audience to feel some of the distress of his victims.
A simple set and the use of the live tabla player and other percussionists, lends an air of poignancy to the story.
With its challenging themes, The Kite Runner is not an easy watch, but it will leave you questioning the myriad ways human beings inflict suffering on one another.
images: Laura Zapata