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REVIEW: The Kite Runner ‘a searing story of love and betrayal in Afghanistan’

The Kite Runner is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, May 18

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The Kite Runner should run and run. This brilliantly written, directed, and performed play had the first night audience at Cambridge Arts Theatre gripped throughout– and on their feet applauding at the end. It is a searing story of love and betrayal in Afghanistan, a once civilised and liberal country which by the end of the 1970s became a place its people had to flee – if they could.

We see Amir (Stuart Vincent) growing up. He says of his father, a wealthy man who owned an estate with servants and cherry trees: “Everything that his life had been now in two suitcases.”

Interestingly, the country was at its most liberal under a King – with young women attending university in short skirts as they did in Europe.

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The Kite Runner is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, May 18 ‘an enormously powerful night at the theatre’

The Kite Runner is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, May 18 ‘an enormously powerful night at the theatre’

As Jonathan Steele, former chief foreign correspondent of The Guardian, writes in the programme: “In the 1970s, (when he reported from there) none of the country’s ethnic and religious distinctions were causing violence. Indeed, the country had been at peace since 1919 when the British finally recognised Afghanistan’s independence.”

But, as Steele says, peace began to erode, and religious factions created a civil war after King Zahir Shah was overthrown in 1973.

First Russian and later British and American troops tried to intervene on one side or the other with disastrous results. After both gave up, it led to the triumph of the repressive Taliban regime.

This is the background to the story of two young friends, Amir, son of a rich man, and Hassan, the son of the rich man’s servant.

Both the boys lose their mothers as babies. They are nursed by the same woman and Amir’s wealthy father, known only as Baba, lavishes gifts and love on both boys.

The Kite Runner is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, May 18 ‘an enormously powerful night at the theatre’

The Kite Runner is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, May 18 ‘an enormously powerful night at the theatre’

Kite flying is a national sport and it’s quite aggressive. The thing to do is to cover the string in glue and glass so that you will cut down another person’s kite.

The kite-runners are the boys too poor to own their own kites, so they run after the ones that fall. The skill is in knowing where they will land.

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Amir and Hassan are devoted friends. Hassan, who is an expert kite-runner, will do anything for his adored Amir. But they are different religions.

Hassan is a Hazara, a minority Shia sect in Afghanistan who have historically suffered discrimination there.

When Hassan is raped by an older boy and held down by two others, Amir witnesses it but doesn’t intervene and doesn’t tell anyone.

The Kite Runner is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, May 18 ‘an enormously powerful night at the theatre’

The Kite Runner is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, May 18 ‘an enormously powerful night at the theatre’

His guilt leads to a second cruel betrayal. Anyone in the audience who remembered that Jesus foretold that Peter would deny him three times before the cock crowed, knew there would be a third to come before the curtain.

There are bravura performances from everyone in this extremely strong cast. I believed every single one of them.

Particular plaudits must go to Stuart Vincent and Yazdan Qafouri as Amir and Hassan – and Bhavin Bhatt as the nasty Assef who gets even nastier in the second half as a Talib. There are no weak links in this cast, they all deserved the standing ovation they received at the end.

The four older male characters: Dean Rehman as Baba, Christopher Glover who plays three different parts, Tiran Aakel as Hassan’s father and Ian Abeysekera as General Taheri who becomes Amir’s father-in-law, all express the immense dignity of their roles.

This is an enormously powerful night at the theatre, superbly directed by Giles Croft and adroitly choreographed by movement director Kitty Winter. It is heartfelt.

The Kite Runner is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, May 18.

 

 

 

 

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