Review: The Kite Runner, Buxton Opera House

The Kite Runner has become one of the great fictional successes of the century. Khaled Hosseini’s novel, published in 2003, spreads over almost 400 pages; the multi-million dollar film adaptation of 2007 used wide-ranging landscapes to suggest the scale of the story. A stage production is necessarily going to seem confined, maybe a little claustrophobic, and that may not be a bad thing. 

There are several stories at work in The Kite Runner and one of them is about the mental anguish felt by Amir (Raj Ghatak) who fails his closest friend in childhood, Hassan (Jo Ben Ayed). The constraints of the stage setting serve this aspect of the narrative well. Amir is on-stage for almost the entire 140 minutes of this production, and it is critical that we understand and feel the emotional turmoil he experiences between his childhood and adult maturity about 30 years later.

The Kite Runner also presents many examples of human prejudice and narrow-mindedness – be it the hostility felt by Pashtun Afghanis for the Hazara minority, the violence of the Taliban regime or the automatic suspicion of all things Russian. These bigger themes are, perhaps, less suited to the intimacy of the theatre environment.

It is still rare for mainstream British theatre to present stories that include no white characters, where Islamic prayers are repeated and characters talk, untranslated, in a language other than English. All of this is surely healthy and insists that we recognise a wider world. Like Shakespeare, however, the themes of The Kite Runner are not bound by time or place and this universality accounts, in part, for its great success.

This production originated in 2016 at the Nottingham Playhouse and the Liverpool Everyman and is now coming to the end of the English leg of an extensive tour.

This high quality production is a further example of the ability of the Buxton Opera House to attract the best touring theatre companies. A strong cast of twelve, with live on-stage music led by tabla player Hanif Khan, is well-directed by Giles Croft. Matthew Spangler’s adaptation requires a lot of back story to be presented in the first half but this allows for the second half to crack on and a gripping, moving story be told.

The creative and technical teams have done excellent work in presenting a show that is rich visually and aurally. The film production caused some controversy with a brutal rape scene – and while the violence is never far away – most of it happens out of our direct sight. This is a sound directoral judgement.

A very appreciative audience enjoyed the first night and good-sized audiences are assured for the whole run until June 2. For tickets click here.

By Keith Savage