Upon entering the beautiful Norwich Theatre Royal, the sound of drums can be heard which transports the audience to slap bang in the middle of 1970s Afghanistan. The Kite Runner is set predominately here with flashforwards to 21st century San Francisco which our narrator, Amir (Raj Ghatak), steers us through as if he were the tour guide of his own life. His life is a bleak and miserable tale which revolves around one defining act involving him letting his servant, Hassan (Jo Ben Ayed), take a beating and be raped without intervening. The play follows his subsequent guilt and attempt to rebuild his life after this pivotal event.
The audience is required to constantly use their imagination because, aside from two moving screens, a ramp and minimal props, there is next to no scenery accompanying the actors on stage. However, this allows more of a focus on the actors and the story rather than distracting elaborate scenery. As well as imagining the at times extremely brutal land of Afghanistan, the audience must imagine the adult actors as children as they run around playing Cowboy and Indians. While this makes it easier to identify characters, rather than trying to figure out which child grows up to be which adult, some of the actors are more successful at portraying children running around Afghanistan than others.
Jo Ben Ayed completely captures the innocence, loveable naivety and childlike tone of voice that his young character demands. In the wrong hands, the unwaveringly loyal Hassan could have been a simple and sickening one-dimensional character. Under Ayed’s watch, however, he becomes a conflicted and tortured individual, stuck between his sense of morality and his loyalty to Amir. On the other end of the spectrum, you have Assef, who is a pure sociopath determined to torment and eventually rape Hassan. It is a shame that instead of being given a threatening presence to add to the foreboding atmosphere, he is portrayed as a giggling and almost comically over the top villain.
After a bleak first act full of rape and neglect, it is then a welcome break to join act two in the hippie San Francisco of the 1980s, where the audience is treated to a brief dance montage. While it appears out of place with the rest of the play, it does inject some light-hearted energy into the play, allows a light chuckle and acts as a contrast to the extremely war-stricken Afghanistan that Amir has left behind.
Throughout all of the action, Amir constantly stops the narrative to break the fourth wall and reel off chunks of information that the audience has to quickly process. Raj Ghatak has arguably the hardest job, as along with rattling off this expansionary dialogue, he must make an audience sympathise with a man who made a terrible choice leading to Hassan’s suffering. While he may appear cold and hard to forgive initially, it is perhaps when Amir falls in love and gets married that we see a more tender side to him, which then spurs him on to save Hassan’s child from the middle of war.
Without spoiling anything for those unfamiliar with the play (or the 2003 book it is based on and the 2007 film adaptation of that), The Kite Runner takes its audience down a rabbit hole of twists and turns which pull at even the most cynical person’s heartstrings. While sometimes the story is somewhat predictable and drags a tad in the second act, it is still a remarkable piece
of theatre which offers an audience a look into an otherwise unexposed section of the world and humanity. With many other dates around the UK, make sure you take a trip to see The Kite Runner and challenge any preconceived ideas you had about Afghanistan and the people that inhabit the country.
The Kite Runner plays at the Theatre Royal from Monday 5th to Saturday 10th March