The Kite Runner | Theatre Review
Grand Opera House, Belfast • Monday 18 June
By Gemma McSherry
We experience stage adaption of Khaled Hosseini’s best-selling novel The Kite Runner through the first-person narrative of Amir, played by Raj Ghatak, who breaks free from the scenes unfolding around him, to offer lengthy monologues of conscience, fears and hopes to the audience. Amir is a grown man living in San Francisco retelling the stories of his childhood – in which he plays himself as a young boy – growing up as the son of a wealthy businessman during Afghanistan’s liberal 1970’s period, before moving to American prior to the Russian invasion of 1979 and later the Taliban occupation. Consequently, Amir never had the opportunity to experience the life of an everyday Afghan during a time which made the country synonymous with destruction, extremism and terror.
Amir has a troubled relationship with his servant, Hassan, portrayed with grace and tenderness by Jo Ben Ayed, who as a Hazara Shia Muslim, is both religiously and ethnically rejected by the Pashtun Sunni majority in his neighbourhood. As Amir’s character proves cowardly in the face of Hassan’s maltreatment, we unwittingly become a passive voyeur to the abuse of the innocent through Amir’s eyes.
Whilst Raj Ghatak’s portrayal of Amir is stifling, lumbering and uncomfortable at first; a brash, self-involved, cowardly American is always going to appear inelegant and oafish beside his subtler, considered supporting cast, note-worthy performances include Soroosh Lavasini as the chilling Assef and Gary Pillai as the proud and complex father, Baba. As the play moves forward, we realise that this self-indulgent depiction of Amir’s character is essential in challenging us as indifferent viewers to the horrors of war and displacement.
Perhaps, watching this play in the same week as footage was obtained by ProPublica, of refugee and migrant children crying as they’re separated from their parents and placed in cages at the hands of US immigration detention centres, negates the other more understated and universal subtexts that Matthew Spangler’s adaption has to offer: Those of friendship, courage and family. However, the political context of this play is by far it’s strongest and most powerful message.
The stage adaption of Khaled Hosseini’s best-selling novel The Kite Runner is a timely and necessary reminder of the human stories at the centre of international news bulletins that litter our media with negative archetypal portrayals of refugees and migrants. It offers its audience the freedom to understand their position of privilege through Amir’s eyes, to employ empathy for the downtrodden in society and to realise the transformative power that storytelling has in opening minds and building bridges.