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Review: The Kite Runner (UK Tour / Richmond Theatre)

Review by Rosie Holmes




Set across Afghanistan and America, The Kite Runner tells a story of friendship, redemption and guilt. Adapted from Khaled Hosseini’s 2003 bestselling novel, this production has embarked on a tour of the UK, beginning in Richmond. From speaking to others before seeing the production, it is clear many have deep personal connections to, and strong feelings towards, the novel. As for myself, I have never read the book and thus took the play as I saw it, without any comparison. It soon became clear why the story is so highly regarded as the audience were swept away in a heart-breaking and moving tale.


The Kite Runner begins in 1970s Afghanistan as we meet our protagonist and narrator Amir, a wealthy Pashtun boy and his servant and best friend, Hazra boy Hassan. The show opens with dialogue in Dari, grounding us in the context of the play as we watch the two boys innocently play, naively firing pretend guns at one another, a chilling foreshadowing of the events to come. As we watch them converse in Dari, it serves as a powerful reminder to the audience that while we all have differences there is still the possibility to understand each other, a theme that soon develops further.

Beautiful scenes featuring the boys playing are cut short as they are faced with bully Assef, who threatens the boys, and later attacks Hassan with Amir failing to intervene. This then directs the rest of the narrative, as Amir contends with his guilt for the remainder of the play, finding a way to be ‘good again’. The story spans three decades and moves from the boys’ childhood into the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and through to the Taliban rule of the country, and their escape from their war-torn homeland.


It's pretty impressive that this epic story is covered in a two-hour long play, but the story rarely lets up and is  hard-hitting throughout. It’s a story about a father and son, refugees, friendship, overcoming differences, war, cultural differences, but the overarching themes are guilt and redemption, and as such the audience is taken on a narrative arc along with the narrator, who explores his feelings toward  both. Given the many themes it covers, it’s testament to the writing that the story never becomes confusing, and remains engaging from start to finish.

The main character, Amir is played by Stuart Vincent, and he works hard! He narrates the story and plays his character throughout childhood and adulthood. Usually, I would find adults playing children rather jarring, however Vincent easily swaps between ages and brings a childlike naivety to his role that feels earnest and believable. Though his character is often unlikeable, he is always enthralling. Similarly, Yazdan Qafouri as Amir’s best friend Hassan, and then later his son, portrays the innocence of childhood perfectly, later giving way to the sorrow of a child whose innocence has been stolen. The supporting cast are excellent too, Bhavin Bhatt is evil as the bully, and even more disturbing as a member of the Taliban, and where Dean Rehman is often frustrating as Baba, he conveys his love towards his son while also grappling with his own feelings of guilt.


However, despite its gut-wrenching storyline and poignant writing, something did seem missing, as I never quite experienced the full emotional immersion I perhaps expected. This sits with the fact that so much of the story is explained directly to the audience. As a narrator Amir is passionate, but appears just a little bit  too much. By explaining and narrating every scene, sometimes the approach pulls us out of the scene, which can be jarring, and nothing is left to interpretation.


Visually, the piece is beautiful. Barney George’s set sees the fence of Amir’s childhood home transform into the skyscrapers of San Francisco, and large kites fill the sky upon which William Shipson’s beautiful projections are displayed. expanding the settings further than the set pieces can alone. Drew Baumhol’s sound design works well alongside the visuals, transporting us to Afhganistan with traditional music, which is then juxtaposed by the noises of 1980s America.


It's clear to see why The Kite Runner has had such glorious success as not only a novel, but a film and this adaptation to the stage. It’s a story that touches on a multitude of human emotions and relationships and is told ever so beautifully. While there is some emotion lacking, there is no doubt this is a piece worth seeing, especially in the political climate we found ourselves in as war continues in multiple corners of the globe.


The Kite Runner is on a UK tour until the 6th July, tickets and more information can be found here - Tour Dates — The Kite Runner Play

Photos by Barry Rivett



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