The Kite Runner

Previewed 21 December 2016, Opened 10 January 2017, Closed 11 March 2017 at the Wyndham's Theatre
Previewed 8 June 2017, Opened 12 June 2017, Closed 26 August 2017 at the Playhouse Theatre

Giles Croft's stage production of Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner in London, adapted by Matthew Spangler

A haunting tale of friendship that spans both cultures and continents as it follows one man's journey to confront his past and find redemption.

Afghanistan - a divided country on the verge of war. But for childhood friends, Amir and Hassan, it's a beautiful afternoon in Kabul. The skies are full of the excitement and joy of a kite-flying tournament. But neither boy can foresee what will happen that afternoon - an event that is to shatter both their lives. Their experiences as they grow up reflect the country's tumultuous history, through the Soviet invasion and the rise of the Taliban. PLEASE NOTE: The age recommendation for this production is 14 and over.

Adapted for the stage by Matthew Spangler from Khaled Hosseini's best-selling novel. Directed by Giles Croft with designs by Barney George, lighting by Charles Balfour, projections by William Simpson, music by Jonathan Girling and sound by Drew Baumohl. This production was orginally seen at the Nottingham Playhouse in 2013, regional tours, and a West End season at the Wyndham's Theatre from December 2016 to March 2017.

This production was seen in the West End at the Wyndham's Theatre (previewed from 21 December 2016, opened on 10 January 2017 and closed on 11 March 2017) when the cast featured Ben Turner as 'Amir' with Andrei Costin as 'Hassan' / 'Sohrab', Emilio Doorgasingh as 'Baba', Nicholas Khan as 'Rahin Khan', Lisa Zahra as 'Soraya', David Ahmad as 'Kamal', Ezra Khan as 'Ali', Nicholas Karimi as 'Assef', Antony Bunsee as 'General Taheri', Bhavin Bhatt as 'Wali' / 'Doctor', Johndeep More and Natasha Karp with Hanif Khan as Tabla Player. Ben Turner's West End stage credits include David Lan's production of William Shakespeare's As You Like It with Helen McCrory and Sienna Miller at the Wyndham's Theatre in 2005.

When this production opened at London's Wyndham's Theatre in January 2017, Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph said: "Here was an enthralling tale beautifully told, at once topical and emotionally resonant, centring on a poignant childhood friendship in Afghanistan in the mid-Seventies, and tracking the fate of its protagonists across political tumult and violence," adding how, "seated on the edge of the stage, tabla player Hanif Khan provides atmospheric and suspenseful percussion." Neil Norman in the Daily Express commented that "the staging is overly simplistic given that kite flying is a metaphor for the quest for freedom in Afghanistan, where it was banned by the Taliban... Drawing heavily on the Afghan tradition of story-telling, it is here that the play succeeds best... But it is the story rather than the production that moves you to tears." Alexander Gilmour in the Financial Times highlighted that "Matthew Spangler's adaptation packs in as much of Hosseini's book as possible. Unable to dramatise it all, his script contains acres of exposition. Too often, actors in static poses regurgitate off-stage events. It's boring. His lines are also littered with sentimental phrases which grate. The adaptation is not enhanced by the direction of Giles Croft. While Croft does little wrong - the plot is clear - he does little of note." Ann Treneman in the Times described how "the play is hampered by a clunky structure that relies on Amir as narrator linking various scenes. The pace is, at times, glacial and the script is often so pedestrian that it requires its own zebra crossing... There are aspects that work very well though, particularly the brilliant idea of putting a musician (Hanif Khan) on stage throughout, playing the tabla drums, which gives the production a real soulfulness... This play has a big heart but does it fly? I'm afraid not." Paul Taylor in the Independent thought that "Matthew Spangler, in this American adaptation of The Kite Runner first seen in the UK at Nottingham Playhouse in 2013 and now making its debut in the West End, has a more conservative idea of fidelity than that. I should, though, preface my misgivings about his rather plodding treatment with the acknowledgement that I found the evening very moving... And Giles Croftís production is performed with a sturdy integrity and staged with impressive economy." Michael Billington in the Guardian asked: "How do you adapt a novel for the stage?... Matthew Spanglerís solution is to offer a workmanlike summation of the book, but one that rarely captures its ability to glide seamlessly from the intimate to the epic... In the novel it is a gripping story... by faithfully following the first-person narration and rhythmic structure of Hosseiniís book, Spangler reduces it to a series of chronological events... if Iím honest, however, I got far more satisfaction from reading the book than from watching this devout distillation of it." Henry Hitchings in the London Evening Standard explained that "Matthew Spanglerís script is workmanlike, but it preserves Khaled Hosseiniís sensitive portrait of a friendship marred by tribalism and betrayal... In the first hour the productionís restraint makes it feel refreshingly brisk... But in a drawn-out second half the action sags. The section in America lacks atmosphere, and only in its final redemptive scenes does the story once again soar."

When seen on tour, Sarah Hemming in The Financial Times explained that "adapting the story for stage presents a challenge. Matthew Spangler's dramatisation, worked on with Hosseini's help and blessing, rightly seizes on the potent personal story at the heart of the novel: the tale of two boys, Amir and his father's servant Hassan, brought up as near brothers in the same house... Staged with great fluidity by Giles Croft on a simple evocative set," addding that "It's beautifully performed by a versatile ensemble, and what the staging does celebrate wonderfully is the crucial relationship at the heart of the story. Ben Turner's intense mix of anguish and self-loathing as Amir is both moving and painful." Patrick Marmion in The Daily Mail said that, in "Matthew Spangler's luminous and touching adaptation of Khaled Hosseini's 2003 bestseller... as the hero and narrator Amir, Ben Turner is outstanding." Lyn Gardner in The Guardian highlighted that "Matthew Spangler's adaptation is certainly faithful, but the first-person narrative sometimes makes for clumsiness in the theatre... It is gripping, but obvious... Always looks good, but never evokes real blood and guts. Ben Turner's Amir sometimes looks slightly pained, but seems remarkably untouched by unfolding events, and the actor is far more believable as the adult Amir than he is as the child." Sam Marlowe in The Times described how "Matthew Spangler's dramatisation tends towards the pedestrian, with an over-reliance on direct-address, first-person narration. And Giles Croft's production sometimes feels rushed and lacking in weight... Where it captures the book's soaring hope and compassion it is exhilarating... such is the force of the story that, despite the production's dips and eddies, it flies." Dominic Cavendish in The Daily Telegraph commented that director Giles Croft "has brought Khaled Hosseini's best-selling 2003 novel to the stage - using an accomplished adaptation by Matthew Spangler - with terrific elan... Croft has a hit on his hands that deserves to travel the country." Ben Turner's "first-person narration never lets up, and frequently leaves the rest of the cast looking oddly mute. Turner valiantly forges forward, skilfully conveying the guilt that drips from Amir's pores, all the while retaining the air of an actor sprinting towards the finish line," wrote Fiona Sturges in The Independent. "The kite-flying episodes are staged simply and beautifully, using projections on billowing sheets, the whistling of wind and an ever-present tabla player. These are the scenes that stay with you, the kites soaring and diving as the characters tread a bumpy path towards redemption. It's here that The Kite Runner really flies."

"The Kite Runner is serviceable, slightly old-fashioned drama, rather than incisive or invigorating theatre. Ben Turner, playing the lead character, Amir, helms this production convincingly, but is no star headliner. Nor is its director, Giles Croft, the long-serving artistic director of Nottingham Playhouse, where this production was first received warmly in 2013... The designer Barney Georgeís versatile spare set evokes place rather than pinpointing it, with a backcloth projection of changing cityscapes, fronted by spectral wooden staves... The mood for the production, lit superbly by Charles Balfour, is set by the transporting tabla-playing of Hanif Khan, who remains on stage throughout... Khaled Hosseiniís book is a riveting moral page-turner that also serves to explain modern Afghan history to a western audience. A cracking novel sparks to life in a readerís imagination ó to give that story physical form in the theatre is a rare feat.. It feels the fault of Matthew Spanglerís stolid, overly episodic adaptation that this production never takes you on the same journey emotionally as the book ó or persuades you to run with its story. It succeeds, but never soars." The Sunday Times

"Khaled Hosseini's best-selling novel about a childhood friendship that began in 1970s Kabul is a mighty beast, spanning decades and continents, and juxtaposing several family betrayals against many catastrophic political ones. It's been made into a film and now a stage show. Yet while Giles Croft's production sometimes struggles to capture the widescreen scope of the original, it feels meaty and nourishing. British-Iranian actor Ben Turner holds the centre as Amir, the unhappy son of a wealthy Afghan businessman and best friend - and master - of Hassan, a member of the minority, and thus routinely abused Hazara sect. As children the boys share a home and play with kites in tranquil, cosmopolitan Kabul. But a small moment of cowardice by Amir soon mushrooms into a much bigger act of betrayal against his friend, the effects of which are life-defining. Around him history also mushrooms as the Soviets, the West and Islamic fundamentalists inflict their own injustices against the Afghan people. As the story moves from war-torn Kabul to San Francisco and back again, Croft's colourful, beautifully lit production lacks much of the nuance of the original and, on the whole, is solid rather than exciting. But it tells this bustling, crowded and sometimes difficult story clearly and cleanly. And while Turner does a good job at portraying Amir's arrogance and self-loathing, even better is Andrei Costin as Hassan and later Hassan's son Sohrab: both of them damaged but always determined." The London Metro

"Khaled Hosseini's story of personal guilt and national catastrophe has become a truly contemporary cultural phenomenon... Adaptor Matthew Spangler has admirably condensed Hosseini's epic novel. Despite inevitable losses of incident and texture, there is no sense of constriction. The adaptation remains narrative-heavy, but this is no cause for complaint when the narrator is the excellent Ben Turner, whose sympathetic portrayal holds the piece together... Giles Croft's beautifully measured production does full justice to the play's many moods, creating particularly lyrical images of the kites. It is impeccably acted by a large cast, with Andrei Costin deeply affecting in the dual role of Hassan and his orphaned son, Sohrab, whose fate cannot but remind us of the thousands of vulnerable children in Syria today." The Sunday Express

"This is the stage version of the bestselling novel The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini featuring two boys - Amir and his best friend, the lowcaste Hassan - who happily fly kites in Seventies Kabul. Then disaster. The Soviets invade. Amir and his proud father flee to Pakistan, then to America, where their fellow exiles flog junk in a San Francisco flea market. Behind him, Amir leaves a privileged boyhood stained with guilt at the betrayal of his great chum Hassan. In Matthew Spangler's adaptation, Ben Turner, as Amir, narrates the story, and there's too much tell and not enough show. But a strong Asian company, directed by Giles Croft, imprints its own immigrant experience from outside the book on to the stage... If you loved the novel, then this, too, is utterly absorbing from start to finish." Robert Gore-Langton, The Mail on Sunday

The Kite Runner in London at the Playhouse Theatre previewed from 8 June 2017, opened on 12 June 2017 and closed on 26 August 2017