Review: The Kite Runner at Exeter Northcott

The Kite Runner tells the story of Amir, a writer living in San Francisco, who fled the Soviet regime in Afghanistan as a child. Adapted from Khaled Hosseini’s 2003 novel of the same name, this coming of age story follows Amir from his happy childhood as the son of a wealthy business man in Kabul, playing with his best friend and servant Hassan, to becoming a refugee running from his war-torn country, and finally to living as a successful author in the USA. Amir’s journey is by no means easy, he makes many mistakes along the way, and he suffers for this, but the difficult themes in no way hinder the deeply moving story which is perfectly suited to its adaptation as a work for the stage.

This week Exeter Northcott Theatre has been hosting the UK tour of The Kite Runner which has just finished a run in London’s West End. I was also fortunate enough to attend the play in London earlier this year and I have to say, although the cast and venue may be different, the performance of The Kite Runner in Exeter was just as high calibre as you would expect from a play in the West End, if not better! The play definitely lends itself well to a small and intimate setting like Exeter Northcott Theatre and you can easily find yourself becoming lost in the action and immerse yourself in the emotions of the characters.

Before the play even commences, you are immersed into the atmosphere of 1970’s Afghanistan by Hanif Khan who sits in the corner of the stage playing the tabla while the audience enter. Khan may seem a very small part of The Kite Runner’s production, but he definitely deserves a special mention for the patience it must take for him to sit on stage for almost the entire play, and for his clear musical talent which is integral to creating the perfect mood for the story. Music is cleverly used throughout the play, not just by Khan, but also by members of the cast who often join him in playing unusual instruments like the Schwirrbogen and the Tibetan singing bowls at key moments which adds yet another level to this already complex and intriguing play.

Lovers of Hosseini’s novel will notice a few minor changes throughout this adaptation of The Kite Runner, but these do not affect the story or its message and many cuts, like the absence of Hassan’s cleft lip, are completely understandable losses. The Stage newspaper has praised the play for being “the best page-to-stage show since War Horse” and I must agree. Though a few supporting characters have been excluded, most notably Soraya’s mother, and some smaller scenes did not make the cut, such as the visit to Fahrid’s family or Amir’s time in hospital, overall the play is very faithful to the novel and is just as thrilling and enjoyable to watch as it is to read. If you have read the novel you may be wondering if they really can be so extremely faithful to the book when it contains so much sensitive subject matter that would seem crude to portray on stage. However, I can assure you that all the story’s darker moments are included and the play deals very tactfully with the difficult themes, juxtaposing them with lighter, comedic moments wherever possible.

The play’s success in dealing with these issues is largely down to it’s amazing cast who are all clearly committed to their roles and enjoy performing as much as the audience enjoys watching them. All the actors in the Kite Runner perform with great professional skill and at times need little more than a small glance or facial expression to convey exactly how they are feeling. Particular cast members who stand out are Emilio Doorgasingh as the infamous and intimidating Baba; Doorgasingh’s depiction of Baba as he deteriorates due to cancer is particularly moving and he deals especially well with both the physical portrayal of illness and the internal effect this has on his character. Another performer who deals strikingly well with a difficult role is relative newcomer Jo Ben Ayed who multiroles both Hassan and his son Sohrab. Taking on not one, but two roles, and depicting a child is a difficult task but Ayed’s portrayal of both is convincing and sincere; it is clear that The Kite Runner is only the start for him.

However, David Ahmad’s powerful portrayal of protagonist Amir carries the entire show. Not only does Ahmad remain on stage constantly throughout, but his impressive energy only seems to grow. He switches seamlessly between the grown up, troubled narrator and the younger playful Amir which, paired with his dry humour and intense emotions, makes him the perfect lead for this play. He had no trouble in visibly moving the audience and by the end (at the risk of sounding overly cliché) there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

Overall, The Kite Runner is an incredibly moving adaptation of Hosseini’s novel with brilliant staging and a wonderful cast that really make it a must see. Try and catch it if you can before it leaves The Northcott on the 25th of November. I would definitely watch this play a thousand times over.

– by Emma Hewetson

*Image courtesy of Exeter Northcott Theatre

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