In Matthew Spangler’s adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s novel The Kite Runner, the central character, Amir, guides the audience through the events of the play, which cover 25 years in Afghanistan’s turbulent history at the end of the last century.
The crux is his childhood friendship with Hassan, the son of his father’s servant. The gulf between them is a matter of identity as well as affluence and class: Amir’s family is Pashtun, Hassan’s Hazara, an ill-treated minority.
When Hassan is brutally assaulted by a nationalistic youth, Amir fails to stand up for him. His shame is the force that drives the plot and determines the fates of Hassan and his family.
It’s a powerful story with many compelling themes.
The production is given cohesion and atmosphere by Hanif Khan’s mesmerising on-stage tabla playing.
The cast of 12 create individual characters but also suggest a whole society. Emilio Doorgasingh as Amir’s father Baba gives a towering performance. He makes Baba’s courage (‘Ask him where his shame is’, addressed to a Russian soldier intent on rape) and fallibility equally memorable.
David Armad as Amir is engaging and sympathetic – an Everyman figure, full of remorse, who finds unexpected resources within himself to confront the consequences of his past actions.
Jo Ben Ayed gives a heart-rending, haunting performance as Hassan, and then repeats this as Sohrab, Hassan’s son; the two outsiders, father and son, blending into one.
The kite-flying alluded to in the play’s title gives a lyrical, optimistic note to this multi-layered, unsettling tale.
The Kite Runner is on at the Lyceum Theatre in Sheffield until Saturday, October 21.