THE audience at Salisbury Playhouse is not given to spontaneous displays of emotion, but at the end of the Nottingham Playhouse production of Matthew Spangler’s adaptation of The Kite Runner, almost everyone sprang to their feet to applaud.
This after an unpromising start, as the touring company battled with the technology to raise and lower the vast sails that form the backdrop to the epic tale, and the audience, kept out of the auditorium for 15 minutes, then listed to a brilliant but unexpected tabla raga for the next five minutes.
But within a few more moments, the story began to weave its powerful magic. It’s a huge tale, set mainly in Afghanistan with scenes in Pakistan and San Francisco, and it spans almost 30 years, starting when Amir is a rich boy in Kabul, with a devoted servant, Hassan, just a year younger.
From the halcyon days of climbing pomegranate trees, through the rise of teenage militancy, the overthrow of the government, and the arrival of the Taliban, first hailed as rescue and later seen as a terrifyingly oppressive regime, the recent history unfolds though the eyes of Amir, a flawed and often unhappy boy.
Matthew Spangler first began talking with Hosseini about adapting the novel for the stage two years before the film of the book was released. Last year it came to Nottingham and is now touring.
It is always difficult to transfer a beloved – and in this case, epic – novel to the stage, and perhaps the ambitious designs were proved at Salisbury to be largely irrelevant to the story.
The Kite Runner is brilliantly and poignantly performed, by the powerful Ben Turner, who never leaves the stage as Amir, and the delicate and devoted Hassan of Romanian debutant Andrew Costin.
It is one of the most moving and compelling pieces I have ever seen on stage. It’s long and complicated, but, as the enraptured and often sobbing audience discovered, well worth any effort it might require.
The Kite Runner is soaring triumphant at Salisbury until Saturday 22nd November, which is the end of its 2014 UK tour.
Tickets at Salisbury are available ONLY for the Thursday matinee, and returns for other performances.
Photographs by Robert Day