Adapted by Matthew Spangler from the novel by Khaled Hosseini
Nottingham Playhouse/Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse
03 October 2017 to 07 October 2017
Khaled Hosseini’s 2003 novel has sold more than 31m copies in 60 languages, was made into a hugely successful film and now there’s this stage version, originating a couple of years ago as a co-production between Nottingham and Liverpool Playhouses and arriving here via a couple of UK tours and a West End run.
It tells the rite of passage story of Amir (David Ahmad), a young boy from Kabul and his friend Hassan (Jo Ben Ayed) against a backdrop of events from the Soviet military intervention, the exodus of refugees to Pakistan and the United States, and the rise of the Taliban regime.
The two boys grow up in the same household, Amir the son of an affluent widowed father, Hassan ostensibly the son of the father's trusted servant.
The boys play around the neighbourhood and fly kites but their lives follow very different paths after an act of childhood betrayal casts a guilty shadow over Amir's life.
As the political situation worsens, Amir and his father relocate to California and new, very different, lives and, in the final section of the narrative, Amir unexpectedly has opportunity for redemption and making amends for past wrongs.
As page-to-stage goes it’s a reasonably successful condensing of an epic novel.
It’s had highly favourable reviews while it has been out and about over the past couple of years and it isn’t difficult to see why – the performances are solid, there’s a cast of 13 doing their stuff, plus tabla player Hanif Khan providing evocative live music that punctuates and underscores, and it’s played on a simple but practical set of a curved ramp backed by sort-of skyscraper images with a giant kite-shaped structure that comes and goes to divide the space into more intimate areas. It’s also been directed with concern for the text.
The problem here however is that from an artistic standpoint it’s in the wrong theatre.
The coaches were lined up all around The Lowry and afterwards it was difficult to exit through the double parked parents’ cars, so it’s obviously a set text of some kind, which is no doubt why it needs the seats to put the young bums on.
But in the Lyric’s 2,000-ish auditorium the production itself is having difficulty communicating with the intensity the piece demands. Every play here needs miking, this isn’t and with over-amplified instrumentals it just emphasises the lack of volume on the vocals.
The cast are coping well and the piece still comes across as a potent drama but either more technical help or a smaller theatre is what's really needed.
Reviewer: Alan Hulme