Reviews West End & Central Published 16 January 2017

Review: The Kite Runner at Wyndham’s Theatre

Wyndham's Theatre ⋄ Until 11th march 2017

“It may just be coincidence…” Amelia Forsbrook reviews Matthew Sprangler’s adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s best-selling novel.

Amelia Forsbrook
The Kite Runner at Wyndham's Theatre.

The Kite Runner at Wyndham’s Theatre.

It may just be coincidence, but there’s an awful lot of uncanny repetition in Matthew Spangler’s stage adaptation of The Kite Runner.

When our narrator, Amir, newly married and firmly settled on American soil, returns from San Francisco to Kabul to atone for the errors of his childhood, it may just be a coincidence that he encounters all the pivotal figures from his privileged yet sour childhood. It may just be a coincidence that the son of Amir’s betrayed childhood friend, Hassan, looks a lot like his father – a similarity that is heightened on stage, as Andrei Costin takes both roles. It may just be a coincidence that the local bully who raped young Hassan turned into the Taliban official who rapes Hassan’s son.

It may just be coincidence, but it may be that a series of narrative tricks borrowed from fable and fairy tale, combined with allegorical responses to contemporary politics, conspired in 2003 to make Khaled Hosseini’s debut novel such a fly-away best-seller. The narrative voice of the book is crucial. Hosseini’s Amir is a writer of fiction, and makes no apologies for that. When family members offer conciliatory synonyms for his profession as writer – Reporter, perhaps? Or Historian? – Amir brushes their wishful suggestions away. He is a romanic. A self-assured creator of untruths. A voice not entirely to be trusted.

And a series of coincidences delivered straight from an unreliable voice makes an awful lot of sense. While twelve year old Amir watches from the shadows as bullies rape his loyal best friend, an older Amir, pen in hand, can re-write history and make it all okay again. For this guilty writer, with the burden of guilt and a whole lot of wrongs to put right, fiction provides momentary retribution. If we want, we can choose to believe that this narrator, as his words suggest, went back to Kabul to undo his sins and actively atone for his childhood passivity. If it all becomes a little too implausible, there’s always the alternative reading that Amir, settled in California, chose to bring a fictive closure to his errors solely within the pages of his novel.

On stage, we lose the imbalance of an unreliable narrator, and the coincidences, without their poetic licence, begin to rot and stagnate. In Spangler’s hands, a global fable becomes a series of unlikely events – a emotive quest for moral retribution now bares the kick-ass convenience of a James Bond movie. Want to find a lost child? Mention his father’s favourite past-time, and orphanage doors open! Want to rescue said child from a blood-soaked member of the Taliban? Oh goody – looks like someone left a catapult within arm’s reach! Child takes a knife to himself in the bathtub, before developing PTSD? On the bright side, it turns out kite battles can make him smile again. The kite – a symbol of resistance against the Taliban’s ban – becomes all too literal on stage, and gone is the flimsy fantasy of a desperate writer.

With so much drama in so little time, it’s not really surprising when Ben Turner’s Amir occasionally descends into hammy melodrama, complete with screaming, pointing, accusing and agonised self-reflection. Otherwise, though, he brings a troubled integrity to his confessional recollections. There are moments of subtlety, too, when he animates the cast of his memories through a gentle nod or breezy look of recognition – calling each character alive to take their role in his introductory monologue. Informed by Movement Director Kitty Winter, Giles Croft’s direction gets the balance between childhood experience and adult recollection just right, plotting Amir’s development through downcast eyes, hunched shoulders and a charged, anticipatory stance. The twelve year old boy bounces around stage in a man’s body, subdued navy shirt and anachronic wedding ring in a brilliant portrayal of memory.

While Amir remembers his youth with discomfort, Spangler’s adaptation leaves us fondly recalling the book. From the distinctly memorable pledge, “for you a thousand times over”, to such nuggets of wisdom as “Children aren’t coloring books. You don’t get to fill them with your favorite colors”, “Sad stories make good books” and “a boy who won’t stand up for himself becomes a man who can’t stand up to anything”, the script leaks a rich sense of history and a ripe negotiation of masculinity, truth and honour. It’s funny, humane, generous and shrewd – and it’s not just a coincidence that I’ve already dug out my paperback.

The Kite Runner is on until 11th March 2017 at Wyndham’s Theatre. Click here for more details. 

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Amelia Forsbrook

As a Wales Arts International critic, Amelia toured India with National Dance Company Wales to discover whether national identity abroad could ever amount to more than dragons, sausages and leeks. After moving to London in early 2012, Amelia has continued working as a critic and arts commentator. With particular interests in regional arts, South Asian performance, twentieth century European theatre and quirky little numbers involving improvisation, emotional outburst and abandoned buildings, Amelia writes for a number of publications, as well as being a Super Assessor for the Off West End Awards (The Offies) and Associate Editor at Bare Fiction.

Review: The Kite Runner at Wyndham’s Theatre Show Info


Directed by Giles Croft

Written by Khaled Hosseini, adapted by Matthew Sprangler

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