Review: The Kite Runner, Theatre Royal, Norwich

The Kite Runner: Raj Ghatak as Amir, with other cast members of this gripping production. Photo: Bet

The Kite Runner: Raj Ghatak as Amir, with other cast members of this gripping production. Photo: Betty Zapata - Credit: Betty Zapata

Eve Stebbing is moved by a gripping stage version of Khaled Hosseini's much-acclaimed novel.

The title of Khaled Hosseini's 2003 novel always reminds me of the old phrase - running the gauntlet. This barbaric punishment, used by the British military, meant dashing down a line of armed men as they bashed and bruised the victim on either side.

The torment endured by the book's central characters - two Afghan boys, Amir and Hassan - has a similar feel about it. Their ordeals, however, take a variety of psychological and physical forms - and represent more of a marathon than a sprint.

Although the action opens in a relatively peaceful 1970s Kabul, the Soviet invasion of 1979 and the rise of the Taliban create a backdrop of danger and upheaval.

It's a sad fact that Hosseini's tale is no less topical now than it was fifteen years ago. If anything, the audience for it has grown rather than shrunk. It would be nice if Marc Forster's film back in 2007 had been the full-stop on this turbulent period in Afghan history, but it wasn't.

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Giles Croft's superb production grips from the beginning. He premiered his hypnotic show at Nottingham Playhouse in 2013, and it has certainly stood the test of time.

In Barney George's haunting and simple design, the skyline dominates. It is only obscured, at times, by giant kites. With so little in the way of stage paraphernalia the onus is on lighting and projection to take us from space to space - Charles Balfour and William Simpson collaborate to illuminate this moving world with nomadic brilliance.

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Raj Ghatak as Amir speaks directly to the audience. His many confidences are the thread that lead us through the diverse lives and landscapes portrayed. If he finds the responsibility a burden, he wears it lightly. Jo Ben Ayed as Hassan turns in a poignant performance as Amir's loyal ally. His humble bravery is a reminder of the stoic endurance of all those caught up in oppression and war.

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