Theatre Review: THE KITE RUNNER – The Lowry, Salford

The cast of THE KITE RUNNER. Photo: Barry Rivett / Hotshot Photography

With its stellar cast performance, minimalist staging, and powerful soundscape, Khaled Hosseini’s powerful tale of heartbreak and betrayal is brought to life in THE KITE RUNNER.

5 out of 5 stars

THE KITE RUNNER Khaled Hosseini’s gripping tale of heartbreak and betrayal comes to life on The Lowry’s Lyric stage. Adapted for the stage by Matthew Spangler and directed by Giles Croft, this page-to-stage adaptation really lands yet stays true to the original material.

Following the story of Amir’s (Stuart Vincent) life of regret and his journey to redemption, from the streets of Kabul to the markets of San Francisco and back again, THE KITE RUNNER retains the book’s narrative style – we are witnessing all of this from Amir’s memory, after all. His narration allows the production to maintain a relatively simple set and stage layout, with projection doing a lot of the legwork, as the audience is transported through time periods by Vincent’s impeccable storytelling.

We are led through Amir’s childhood, his joyous relationship with servant Hassan (Yazdan Qafouri), and his considerably more difficult relationship with his Baba (Dean Rehman). He is forced to contend with a perceived sense of disappointment from his father, a very real racial divide in 1970s Afghanistan and the struggle between class and societal pressures created by being best friends with his servant. Alongside multiple truly traumatic experiences, we see how Amir the man is forged through his encounters as Amir the boy.

The cast of THE KITE RUNNER. Photo: Barry Rivett / Hotshot Photography

Music plays an integral role in the production, and we are immediately swept up in this with a live start to the show, as Hanif Khan welcomes the audience into the auditorium with his masterful playing of the tabla (Indian drums). Various instruments are used to undercut sections: the tabla is used to generate pace in exciting and more happy moments, such as the kite fighting, whereas singing bowls (played by circling a wooden mallet around the bowl rim) are used by the ensemble to create a haunting ambience for Amir’s more painful or sinister memories. The slightly more unusual schwirrbogen (‘large, over-grown, wooden football rattles’) are a touch of genius, bringing the idea of wind rushing under kites and through the mountains of Afghanistan, and credit must go to composer and musical director Jonathan Girling and sound designer Drew Baumohl.

Moments of sonic contrast bring a real depth to the play, as does the sudden burst of colour and hip-hop music as Amir and Baba arrive in America. However, the use of complete silence is equally as important as the sound. There are several moments where this is used brilliantly, particularly when Amir talks of his father’s resentment of him for ‘killing’ his mother in childbirth. The manner in which so much of the soundscape is brought in gradually means that you don’t initially notice it – when it is removed, it is very powerful.
There are many wonderful performances from an acting standpoint. Vincent’s Amir has a true sense of cowardice and nervousness, of which he is ashamed, though you can clearly see that it begins to torment him more and more as the play develops. There is a visible physical and vocal difference in his character as he steps forward to deliver narration before retreating back into the action and his childlike form. Whilst he begins full of life and joy, his separation from Hassan greatly affects him, and he becomes more withdrawn.

The cast of THE KITE RUNNER. Photo: Barry Rivett / Hotshot Photography

Qafouri’s Hassan, whilst having relatively little to say, is wonderfully expressive, and we still get that sense of childlike joy and wonder as they chase each other around the stage, speaking Farsi; it may be a language foreign to most of the audience, but it is used to such great effect that it doesn’t become a barrier. Even in his most vulnerable moments, there is no sense of pity, only a sense of love and devotion to the person he must serve. Finally, Rehman’s Baba is the perfect foil to Vincent: the narration dictates that there is a stark difference between them as Baba questions his relationship with the boy, and this is brought brilliantly to the stage. Again, there is a stark difference between the two sides of Baba’s character: the powerful, confident man of Kabul and the shell of a man who struggles to exist in San Francisco. His steady decline from full health to succumbing to cancer is tragic as he fights to the bitter end.

THE KITE RUNNER is a play full of contrasts. Whether it is Afghanistan pre- and post-Soviet Union/Taliban, Amir’s life as a boy and man, or the simple cultural differences between Asia and North America, each is done clearly and is matched by the staging. It is a brilliant piece of work, as entertaining as it is harrowing, and it does Hosseini’s book justice.

THE KITE RUNNER runs at The Lowry, Salford, until 11 May 2024.