REVIEW: The Kite Runner soars at Liverpool Playhouse

Matthew Spangler’s adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s heart-wrenching tale of a childhood in Afghanistan at Liverpool’s Playhouse couldn’t be more faithful to its source.

With dialogue lifted from the pages of the book and delivered in both English and Farsi, The Kite Runner delivers a sensuous recreation of Afghanistan in the 70s.

Musician Hanif Khan accompanies the action throughout on percussive tabla, both prefiguring and punctuating the drama, and members of the cast whirl Aeolian spinners like the miniature sails of windmills, evoking the sound of the zephyrs.

The set, spare and sparse, is made malleable by the addition of sail-shaped screens suspended from above, on to which patterns are projected to suggest the richly decorated study of our protagonist’s father, redolent with tobacco and whiskey.

Rather than seek to reinterpret the work, instead it subsumes the viewer within the text. And the story is at once familiar and shocking.

We follow the fortunes of Amir, played with exquisite regret and cowering shame by Aram Mardourian, growing up motherless under the disappointed eye of his godlike father (a magnificent Dean Rehman) and in the company of his best friend and servant, Hassan, with whom he flies kites in local competitions.

Amir flies a deadly dart, strings studded with crushed glass to decapitate rival kites, but it is Hassan who chases through the streets to catch the carcasses. In short, it is Hassan who deals with the fallout.

Nostalgia for a golden childhood is undercut by tensions around social injustice, dark family secrets, blind loyalty and betrayal.

It’s rather like an Asian Blood Brothers. And, like the Willy Russell epic, the tragedy is foretold in the preface.

As scaffolding for these themes are the events of the last 50 years in Afghan history. From the internecine struggles of the early 70s, to the Russian invasion of ’79, through to the rise of the Taliban, the book (and play) are both a story of personal love and loss and a metaphor for all that Afghanistan has suffered in recent history.

It’s a play of two halves. The curtain falls on Afghanistan at the end of Act 1 and rises upon San Francisco in Act 2. Amir has escaped the horrors of his homeland but, in doing so, has unwittingly made a sacrifice of Hassan, depicted by Yazdan Qafouri, a study in unswerving, servile loyalty. Issues of refuge, asylum and relocation remain universally pertinent.

This is not saccharine storytelling, sepia tinted. It depicts a brutality that is not for the faint-hearted. Yet, ultimately, Amir is able to atone for the injustice perpetrated against Hassan to provide a play, like the glass-encrusted kites, at once beautiful, searing and, soaring above, hopeful.

The Kite Runner is at the Liverpool Playhouse until Saturday, 27 April.

Image credit: Barry Rivett for Hotshot Photography

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