Khaled Hosseini’s debut novel, The Kite Runner, is once again the centre of attention with Matthew Spangler’s poignant adaptation of it for theatre. A heartbreaking story of love, loyalty, betrayal and guilt, intertwined with reminders of the suffering in Afghanistan, allows the play to capture the tragedy of life for those caught in a country at war with itself.

Following a successful run in the West End, Giles Croft’s production arrived at The Hawth Theatre in Crawley during its tour of the country, fifteen years after the best-selling novel hit bookstands in 2003. The narrative follows Amir (Raj Ghatak) from his childhood in Afghanistan to his married life in America, where the words of Rahim Khan (Karl Seth), his father’s friend, echo in his ears: “There is a way to be good again.” As a twelve-year-old boy, Amir’s betrayal of his closest friend, Hassan (Jo Ben Ayed), defines the course of his life. Hassan is his servant, and a Hazara - a persecuted minority for whom life is limited to the shadow of Pashtun Afghans; their work extends no further than that of the servants in Afghanistan. Ayed’s portrayal of vulnerable Hassan, with his high, fragile voice and stooped walk, brings a depth to the character not quite conveyed through either the book or the film adaptation; it is this that is one of the crucially defining aspects of seeing the story told in theatre. The contrast of this powerless Hassan with Soroosh Lavasini’s dominating performance of Assef, the antagonist and terrifyingly cruel “sociopath”, drives home Hosseini and Spangler’s illustration of the oppression of Hazaras.

Amir’s story is one of intense guilt and regret, stemming from a particular defining moment of the play - and his life. In the opening, which mirrors that of the novel, he reflects, “I became what I am today at the age of twelve”. His character is painfully defined by his cowardice, a trait which simultaneously evokes both frustration and sympathy from the audience; Hassan, on the other hand, is relentlessly loyal. This poignant contrast makes Amir’s tale all the more distressing - particularly in theatre, when the first-person narrative can be delivered to the audience in such a candid narration.

Set first in the - initially peaceful - Afghan city of Kabul, the play follows Amir to the United States, where he lives as an immigrant with his father, Baba (Gary Pillai). In Spangler’s adaptation, the father-and-son relationship is placed in the foreground; Spangler highlights this when Amir, still just a boy, questions, “Didn’t all fathers in their secret hearts harbour a desire to kill their sons?” Though doubtless a dark concept for a child to bear, it outlines his struggle to understand Baba’s limited expressions of feeling; he inevitably mistakes his father’s distance from him for dislike. Pillai’s performance captures the essence of Baba’s character: a dark, brooding man, who, although traditional - even reactionary - in many ways, is defined by his integrity and moral drive. Although he places pressure on his son to conform to social expectations, it is only because he believes “a boy who won’t stand up for himself becomes a man who can’t stand up to anything.” When a war emerges to echo this sentiment, the urgency of the story told on stage compels the audience to face the horrors of both personal and military conflict.

The Kite Runner is, first and foremost, a political statement designed to shed light on the horrific situation in Afghanistan. It does so by weaving an intensely personal story of life in a divided country; as Amir narrates, “History isn’t easy to overcome. Neither is religion.” Inside the tragedy, though, there is also a fragile hope. The play encapsulates this: whilst not light-hearted or easy to watch, it is captivating and exceptionally thought-provoking. As an adaptation from a novel, the performance both retains its original intrigue and enriches an already provocative story.

Louisa Dollimore, Heathfield Sixth Form