Matthew Spangler’s stage adaptation of The Kite Runner is as tough and compelling to watch as Khaled Hosseini’s book was to read.
A bleak but incredibly complex story is told through the narration and interaction with other characters of David Ahmad who plays Amir.
Ahmad flits back and forth between narrating as adult Amir and acting as the growing boy.
Initially a playful daydreamer, Amir whiles away his childhood with his servant Hassan, played by Jo Ben Ayed, before their ‘friendship’ is examined and found wanting in brutal, tragic circumstances.
What becomes of Hassan is all the more heartwrenching when we later learn his full life story, with injustice seemingly befalling him at every turn.
And it’s particularly hard to stomach given the childlike innocence the actor gives the boy and then later, his son.
We never see Hassan as an adult and therefore it’s impossible to disassociate his tragic fate from the sweet young man who greets us early in the tale.
Central to the plot are Amir and Hassan’s run-ins with the sociopathic Assef, portrayed with convincing maniacal manner by Bhavin Butt.
Assef is everything from school bully to evil executioner, truly the worst of humanity.
Amir’s cowardice in the face of Assef and his gang sets off a chain reaction from which the protagonist will never truly recover.
And the pain and shame eats him throughout, deep into the latter stages of what becomes a heavy, intense telling of Hosseini’s story – which was hardly a light read in itself.
The simple stage and minimalistic use of props allows us to focus entirely on Amir, his actions, their consequences and his anguished reflection on his past.
There are, mercifully, little flecks of light amongst the darkness.
Amir’s father Baba, played brilliantly by Emilio Doorgasingh, struggles to cope as a single parent but his belligerent attitude to life, spiritual teachings and the Soviets brings some big laughs.
Some of the childhood antics of Amir and Hassan are a joy to watch.
The crush that Amir develops on eventual-wife Soraya is every bit as awkward as any first teenage love story and it’s a shame that we didn’t see more of Amiera Darwish as the strong, principled and street wise Soraya.
Their relationship is one of the only glimmers of hope as they join forces to try and atone for their past misdeeds.
This isn’t an easy production to watch, but it is raw, powerful and well worth a visit to the Lyceum in Sheffield or another venue on their run between now and June.