Not having read the book, nor having read the film, might be something of a disadvantage when approaching a theatrical adaptation. Then again the opposite might also be true, depending of the relative merits of all three.

Matthew Spangler’s adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s debut novel is a lengthy, apparently respectful, port that concerns the household of Amir, the son of a well-to-do Afghan businessman in pre-Soviet Kabul. As seems to be the case with the case with popular novels of the time, The Kite Runner centres around a horrific event and the subsequent search for atonement.

The early scenes in Kabul are witty, warm and successful in conveying the friendship between our protagonist, Amir, and his servant-boy-cum-friend Hassan and the destruction of a country portrayed as poor but oddly idyllic. However, once the focus switches from a war-torn Afghanistan to a gay California, it becomes harder to maintain interest in Amir and Baba and the form of Amir’s atonement, courtesy of a trip back to war-torn Afghanistan, a rather handy means by which to bring about a satisfactory closure. The resolution feels trite and the storyline fizzles out a good 20 minutes before the play ends.

The play does benefit from an excellent ensemble of actors, with Farshid Rokey’s savantish servant boy Hassan a genuine delight. Emilio Doorgasingh as Amir’s distant yet proud father is solidly believable and Nicholas Karimi’s Assef disturbingly cold.

A running time in excess of 150 minutes and a first-person narrative are rather sapping, however, and Amir is unlikeable in many and varied ways. Try as he might, Ben Turner can’t do much to elicit sympathy for Amir, nor sustain much interest in him. Amir is cowardly, which is central to the play, but comes off as self-pitying and selfish.

The tropes of class and race divides seem over-familiar and the narrative lurches from predictable revelation to unlikely coincidence without blinking. That The Kite Runner is ultimately unsatisfying does not mean that it does not have wonderful moments and performances, but this production doesn’t really evoke the heat, sweat, fear and viciousness of Afghanistan – and of war and tribal conflict. In the end it feels rather safe, in this setting which is anything but.

The Kite Runner
Liverpool Playhouse
Until 6 July

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