The Kite Runner is a haunting tale of friendship which spans cultures and continents over three decades as it follows one man’s journey to confront his past and find redemption.
In 1970 Afghanistan is a divided country on the verge of war and two childhood friends are about to be torn apart. It’s a beautiful afternoon in Kabul and the skies are full of the excitement and joy of a kite flying tournament. But neither Amir, the son of a wealthy merchant nor Hassan from the servant class can foresee the terrible incident which will shatter their lives forever.
Khaled Hosseini was a doctor in California when he wrote his 2003 debut novel which went on to become a bestseller around the world, published in more than 70 countries selling over 31.5 million copies in 60 different languages.
Then the film version came out in 2007, grossing more than £40m.
Finally it was adapted for the stage by Matthew Spangler and premiered in San Jose, California, where he teaches drama, in 2009. The UK version began at the Nottingham Playhouse in 2013 as a co-production with Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse directed by Giles Croft and has since toured the UK and been in the West End twice.
David Ahmad takes the central role of Amir in the current production. “I have been in it since the beginning playing another role but also understudy to Ben Turner playing Amir. I actually did have to go on as Amir once in the West End which was nerve-wracking but it obviously went OK because the producers offered me the role when Ben left.”
It’s a very human story and highly emotional
“It’s very different from the film which doesn’t have the narrator and more faithful to the book. So we have kept it as Amir telling the story and stepping out and talking directly to the audience. He is key to bringing the audience with him on the story and reliving it and getting them involved.”
In previous productions a child actor played the young Amir but the decision was made to have one actor playing him throughout.
“My character doesn’t leave the stage the whole time while there are many other characters who come in and out and help tell the story,” explains Ahmad.
The cast of 10 includes Karl Seth seen earlier this year at the Sheffield Crucible in Annie Get Your Gun in the role of Chief Sitting Bull, and also an on-stage tabla player, Hanif Khan.
A key element of the story is, of course, the kites. How are they visualised on stage? “We do have actual kites but we also use mime and projections,” explains Ahmad. “There are these two large sails that fly on and deliniate scenes with projections on them.” They look like kites which have a symbolic presence in the story as well as their physical manifestation.
The story is set against a backdrop of the turbulent history of Afghanistan, from the fall of the country’s monarchy through the Soviet military intervention, the exodus of refugees to Pakistan and then on to the West (the United States in Amir’s case), and the rise of the Taliban regime.
The actor found it easy to identify with the story. “My father is from Pakistan. When we first began rehearsals we sat around and we are a cast of mixed ethnicity and all knew stories which were similar, the history you pick up about leaving home and coming to a new country. Lots of people can relate to that in cities like Manchester and Sheffield, like me second generation and hearing of my dad’s experience.
“It’s a story about refugees but so much more than that, not just politics but a very human story and highly emotional.” It touches on a whole host of issues, he points out, such as betrayal, love, loss of parent, relocation, bullying, child play and repeating the same mistakes.
Ahmad was previously part of the two-hander Potted Potter which did all the Harry Potter books in under an hour. He took over from original creators Dan and Jeff and went with it to Australia and New Zealand and a return to the Edinburgh Festival.
A very different beast to Kite Runner. “You would think so, but there’s a lot about it that is very similar,” says Ahmad. “I was the narrator opposite all these different characters from the book and also in terms of interacting with the audience though there are very different tones to the piece.”
He has fond memories of Sheffield from working at the Crucible developing a Richard Hurford play, Eyecatcher, and before that toured to the Lyceum in George’s Marvellous Medicine.
The Kite Runner is at the Lyceum from Tuesday to Saturday.