“ برای شما، هزار دفعه” “For you, a thousand times over”

Echoed throughout, my favourite line of the story and genuinely Afghan phrase is a perfect culmination of all the key themes in The Kite Runner: family, loyalty, love and redemption. The Kite Runner, written by Khaled Hosseini, much loved Afghan author, provides a gold mine of plot and complexity from which Matthew Spangler and Giles Croft have adapted and directed an engaging and memorable play evocative of a whole range of emotions.

Set in 70s Kabul, Pashtun boy Amir and loyal Hazara friend Hassan, son of Baba’s servant Ali compliment eachother like yin and yang. Inseparable since birth, Amir, with a flair for creative writing, reads stories to Hassan who is illiterate, whilst Hassan, the best kite runner in all of Kabul, helps Amir win the approval of his father as they conquer a major kite competition. In exercising his loyalty - protecting the kite Hassan promised to give to Amir - Hassan suffers rape from young, racist, tyrant Asif and his cowardly clan (who go on to be members of the Taliban, no surprises there). The twist in this incident is, that in contrast with Hassan’s loyalty in not letting go of the kite on the basis of his promise to Amir, Amir: runs away; sweeps the assault under the rug; and proceeds to tell a series of lies on the matter, which result in Hassan’s alienation and eventual departure from Baba’s household - not out of spite, but Amir’s inability to comprehend his emotions.

Not only does the suggestion of Hassan’s rape make the viewer sick to the stomach, it also highlights the trauma faced by many Hazara people who were and still are unjustly treated as sub-human by some self-proclaimed “superior” Pashtun people (which can be observed in much of Afghan politics) and sets a precedent for exploration of themes such as toxic masculinity, secrecy and the power of time which are issues paralleled in British culture in a climate of underlying tensions between different groups. Flaws in Amir’s character are revealed and with David Ahmad, actor who plays Amir, proposing a dual narrative throughout the play, there is a retrospective tone to the entire thing where the viewer can learn just as Amir does whilst feeling all the passion of the scenes as though they unfold right in front of you.

At first I was skeptical to see a pair of men roll around on the floor and speak in child-like voices in their portrayal of Amir and Hassan but David Ahmad and Andrei Costin in fact beautifully captured the relationship of the two boys in a way that grows on the viewer as the play progresses to where, fascinatingly, you do in fact see the duo as young boys. The staging was beautifully simple: a traditional Afghan carpet and fabric draped in the shape of a kite which opened and closed throughout the play. My personal favourite scene was the kite competition where cast members used props to mimic the sound of the wind as a result of all the kites. Spontaneous thuds and sounds built up the intensity and David Ahmad's skill on the stage made us wholeheartedly believe he was flying a kite even where there was no physical kite in the air. Live music only contributed to the ambience, thanks to the insane talent of Hanif Khan’s tabla playing to the original compositions of Johnathan Girling intensifying in scenes of conflict or climax.

In terms of cultural accuracy, however, the show was a bit of a hit or miss. Details that would seem minor to the average audience gaped out, for example that Soraya, who was described as Pashtun Afghan in the book speaks Iranian Farsi to Amir! Other areas such as the dancing, particularly the attan, whilst they weren’t executed outright wrongly, failed to capture the vivacity of afghan dance which was slightly disappointing but not too much of an issue - with the plot, acting and physical theatre largely compensating for these errors in stagecraft. On the other hand, the cross-referencing of the Shahnameh Ferdowsi (from which I got my name Tahmina!), and dropping a few Afghan and Russian phrases made viewers feel much more a part of the culture - with my sister and I being lucky enough to have my mother able to interpret all three of these languages! Other much appreciated details in the wedding scene included the bride wearing a traditional green dress and seeing the groom through the mirror which made the scene feel really authentic. With cultural inaccuracies integral to the stage direction being the only real source of complaint in the entire production, the actors themselves did an amazing job with their characterisation, ultimately receiving a standing ovation from the audience, with Andrei Costin in particular, who plays Hassan, worthy of huge credit for his phenomenally authentic-sounding Farsi.

With all the unspeakable horrors inflicted on afghan civilians by the Taliban highlighted in this production, we are brought to the topical and shameful disposition that leaders of the supposedly free world - the American government - shake hands with these monsters and terrorists after all they have done whilst labelling innocent Muslim citizens of the US terrorists. The Kite Runner isn’t a play where all loose ends are tied and is one that will pick at your mind long after you leave the theatre. However, this is what makes it feel really realistic - for those who are ready to deal with some heavy issues, who wish to learn something new with an open mind all whilst being wholly invested and entertained - The Kite Runner is the perfect production to watch.

By Tahmina Sayfi