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Review: The Kite Runner at the Grand Opera House

HARROWING is the best adjective to describe Matthew Spangler’s superb stage adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s bestselling 2003 novel The Kite Runner which opened last night at The Grand Opera House.

Some of us were almost in tears as we watched or witnessed the story set against the break-up of Afghan society.

Hosseini brilliantly personalizes the shift from a liberal regime to a totalitarian theocracy via our hero, young Amir (charismatic Raj Ghatak).

He is the eponymous kite runner, only child of autocratic Baba (Gary Pillai) and lives with his best friend Hassan (outstanding Jo Ben Ayed), son of the family servant.

The actors’ portrayal of childhood, the joy of running after kites, of their deep friendship was touching and funny.

Then things turned dark with the entrance of the fat bully Assef (Soroosh Lavasini). The build-up to this weak sociopath’s rape of Hassan was almost Shakespearean in the horror and inevitability. Think Lear crossed with a spoonful of Titus Andronicus.

There is a sectarian undercurrent too which has added relevance here.

But what emerges is the difficulty of being good in bad times. Amir witnesses his friend’s assault and runs away and the rest of the narrative deals with his journey towards possible atonement.

As he says in the opening speech, you cannot bury the past, it always claws its way back to the surface.

Spangler, who has an MPhil from Trinity College, Dublin, has said the UK production is special to him. Giles Croft directs the Nottingham and Liverpool Playhouse version with beautiful attention to movement and an almost filmic ability to paint pictures.

The kite running scenes and the big set pieces such as Amir’s ill fated birthday party worked brilliantly aided by the music from Hanif Khan.

Although the second half, which follows Amir and his father through the horribly topical immigrant experience of displacement and poverty, flagged a little, overall this was a five-star evening, worth its standing ovation.

It’s invidious to pick out actors in a great ensemble production but Jo Ben Ayed’s moving account of two underdog figures and his rejection by Amir will remain with me for a long time.

 

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