Monday, 24 June 2013

REVIEW - The Kite Runner, Liverpool Playhouse

REVIEW - The Kite Runner, Liverpool Playhouse

THERE’S a story within a story in The Kite Runner about a man whose tears could turn to pearls.
  Unfortunately, the man had such a comfortable life that he had to go to dramatic excesses in order to cry, and each time he cried he had to go even further, even darker, to cry his tears and make his pearls.
  The story comes from the young mind of our protagonist Amir, a storyteller. But in adapting Khaled Hosseini’s epic, sprawling, bestseller and condensing it for the stage, it seems that writer Matthew Spangler has taken the premise of Amir’s short story all too literally.
  As such, the atmosphere often cooks but, by the end, the audience has been battered for over two hours with steadily worsening dramatic horrors, with little in the way of respite in between.
  Such is the way of the adaptation perhaps, but it may also be the reason why this particular adaptation, performed on the Liverpool Playhouse stage, did not quite work.
  Still, there was much to enjoy in the Afghanistan-set tale of Amir and his servant Hassan as we see them grow from boys to men in what is proven to be an increasingly cruel world, with little in the way of warmth or comfort.
  Amir is our narrator and guide through this tale, played with passion by actor Ben Turner, who impresses with his energy and lightning quick changes in character from American-accented adult Amir, to the Afghan-inflected child of his memories.
  Farshid Rokey supports the lead well as Hassan, Amir’s stoic friend and tragic plaything of the storytelling fates.
  The other cast members provide similarly robust personas from which to hang the story, and director Giles Croft ramps up the atmosphere where needed by drawing a suitably menacing performance from our bad guy Assef, played by Nicholas Karimi, and employing the whooshing sound of the fighting kites of the play’s title.
  But my favourite thing about The Kite Runner was the employment of the superb tabla-player Hanif Khan, who is on stage at all times during the play to provide breathtaking rhythmical accompaniment to the harrowing story.
  The first half of the play tells of Amir and Hassan’s young friendship, despite their class and religious differences, and of their success in the local kite fights.
  But a life-changing run-in with a gang of local bullies sends our previously likeable lead character into a spiral of selfishness and guilt which breaks up friendships and families.
  It also makes it somewhat difficult to care too much about Amir and his father’s flight from Afghanistan during Russian invasion, and eventual arrival in 1980s San Francisco.
  From here the plot moves jaggedly and painfully from one key scene to the next. Major plot points or dramatic twists are unfortunately signposted so clearly as to appear clich├ęd.
  By the end I felt like I was being whacked about the face with an emotional shovel, designed to bring forth those magic tears. Looking around at the other audience members as the story lost my attention, I saw men and women wiping soggy eyes.
  I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but my tears stayed firmly locked in their ducts. And as the actors took their bows they got a standing ovation from most of the Playhouse audience.
  So if you’re looking for a heavy and harrowing night’s entertainment or just a good old sobfest, The Kite Runner is probably for you. If you prefer your emotional storytelling spread a little thinner, maybe stay in and read a book instead.