The importance of storytelling is often dismissed in this day and age. We are keen to find out information, to be kept up to date with worldly happenings and current theories, but the way in which we learn of such occurrences is regularly deemed irrelevant. However, watching Matthew Spangler’s adaptations of The Kite Runner, the art of storytelling is renewed through this heart-warming, thought-provoking tale.
In adapting Khaled Hosseini’s novel, Spangler prioritises simplicity. He aims to make the play as concise as possible while still maintaining the essence of this novel. His adaptation tells the story of Amir who looks back on the events that led him to live as a refugee in California. Specifically, Amir contemplates growing up as a privileged Sunni Muslim child in 1970s Kabul with his father Baba, and the days that he spent with his servant, Hassan.
While clearly reflecting the novel is an appealing prospect for a play, you occasionally feel as though you might as well be reading the book. When playing the part of Amir, David Ahmed often simultaneously takes up the role of narrator. The audience are thus told what is happening, rather than shown, and this narrative technique restricts the emotional depth that is explored at poignant moments, preventing the audience from connecting to the play on an entirely emotional level. The play suffers as we never entirely feel immersed in the story. Furthermore, in using such large portions of the book, the content is not selective; while the first half seems void of any particular event, the second half is littered with too many which thus feel almost meaningless in their rapid occurrence despite all being critical moments.
However, set designer Barney George’s design produces an interesting and creative space for the discourse as each location within the story is clear for the audience. The backdrop is a mixture of both the mechanical debris of Afghanistan, and the high-rise buildings of America. The carpet placed on stage is both a symbol of wealth, a feature of Baba’s office, and a location of dismay as the platform from which Baba and Amir waved goodbye to their beloved servants for the last time. All of these wrapped into one prop demonstrate the intelligence of the set design, and one which was combined with the talent of the actors.
One bold directorial move is the decision to have Ahmad play both Amir’s younger self and the American-accented adult he grows up to be. This choice provides the audience with a detailed insight into the confused emotions of Amir as he appears a mix of his past and present self, inviting onlookers to appreciate the way in which the character has changed over time. Both Ahmad’s and Jo Ben Ayed’s (Hassan) voices are layered with the vulnerability of their child characters and create a playful atmosphere which is later destroyed. However, Ahmed’s physicality when playing the younger, more innocent, version of Amir falls short. In contrast with Ayed’s exceptional child-like physicality, Ahmed is unable to translate his vocal success into his physical portrayal of the young Amir appearing awkward and wooden, at times.
The use of live music was exceptional. As you take your seats, Hanif Khan transports us to the streets of Kabul with his onstage drumming, captivating the audience instantaneously and providing a sense of authenticity that did not leave the stage until the plays’ end. The way in which the Schwirrbogen was used to create the sound of wind beneath the fluttering kites in that Afghan sky was innovative also; a beautiful way of immersing the audience into the action of the play.
The performance of Jo Ben Ayed is captivating, the storytelling, evocative and the creation of on-stage relationships are utterly compelling. However, the play fails to emotionally involve the audience. While this adaptation does not provide a performance that is heart-breaking or emotionally testing, it certainly does make you think and is wonderful to behold.
The Kite Runner
Runs until 14th October 2017
Photo Credit: Betty Laura Zapata