The Cost Of Loyalty
Khaled Hosseini’s 2003 literary sensation, “The Kite Runner," is an interwoven tapestry of tales, themes, histories, and experiences surrounding the friendship between young Amir and his servant Hassan, who grew up in Kabul, Afghanistan during the 1970s. Flying kites and fighting bullies, both are blissfully unaware of the horrors and shame that lies ahead. Yet it will not be the Russian invasion, nor the rise of the Taliban, that will change their lives forever. That will already have happened because of forces more petty and primitive. Part history of recent Afghan conflicts, part father and son story, a tale of two cities and a redemption song, “The Kite Runner,” adapted for the stage by Matthew Spangler, is a sumptuous feast, even if its table is often laid out with far too many good things.
Calling it a friendship might be a stretch, given that Hassan is essentially Amir’s obedient slave, showing more honour and loyalty than his master. Yet their relationship shows that there are ties that bind across class and race that demand karmic payment. Such as the responsibilities and the cost of loyalty. Something a cowardly Amir tries to shirk, even when the ever faithful Hassan is brutalised after the kite flying contest. Indeed, there’s little to like about the self serving Amir when set against his principled if over-powering father, or the steadfast Hassan. Even the local bully Assef, beautifully rendered by Soroosh Lavasini, has more integrity in his honest dishonesty. But Amir always lands on his feet, which eventually sees him escape the war in Afghanistan, unlike Hassan, to land in the MTV San Francisco of 1981. Here he gets educated, married, and lives relatively happy ever after. Until the phone call which sends him back to Afghanistan to balance the karmic order.
If Spangler’s ambitious script proves loyal to Hosseini’s novel, like Hassan, it’s often to its own detriment, having little real agency of its own. Efforts to embrace the novel’s scope often become literal and unnecessarily time consuming, with the novels ability to ramble and digress looking tedious on stage, adding lots of unneeded filler in places. A situation not helped by efforts to position “The Kite Runner’s” story telling, character/narrator Amir inside and outside the story telling frame, suggesting less of an archetype and more of a presenter on a children’s TV show. One whose plastic sounding sincerity, and weak language, along with poor transitions between story and narrative, often can’t carry the historical, mythic, or emotional weight of Hosseini’s original. Yet during its best moments, when it all connects, as in several of its successful smaller stories contained within its larger narrative, or in its realisation of powerful archetypal characters as in Gary Pillai’s excellent Baba, “The Kite Runner” feels like a story as old as time. One heard around campfires throughout the ages, reminiscent of classics like One Thousand and One Nights.
Director Giles Croft, and designer Barney George, fashion a visual spectacle that embraces the many dimensions of “The Kite Runner," from a wonderfully suggestive wooden fence doubling as the San Francisco skyline, to a huge kite that wonderfully assists transitions. A subtle sound design by Drew Baumohl, which serves as a perfect compliment to Hanif Khan’s music, further evoke the many worlds of “The Kite Runner.” All awash in an astonishingly effective lighting design by Charles Balfour.
Like the Persian classic The Epic of Gilgamesh, “The Kite Runner” sees the epic, mythic, historic, and deeply personal converge in a tale of two friends. If many of its punches lack impact for being wrapped in too much padding, those that land do so with real emotive power.
Martin Dodd for UK Productions and Derek Nicol & Paul Walden for Flying Entertainment present the Nottingham Players and Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse production of “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini, adapted for the stage by Matthew Spangler at Gaiety Theatre until June 9th
For more information, visit The Gaiety Theatre