JOYCE MCMILLAN on THE KITE RUNNER at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, and BRIDGE at Oran Mor, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 15.11.14.
The Kite Runner 4 stars ****
Bridge 4 stars ****
GIVEN THE SHEER prominence of the conflict in Afghanistan in our news bulletins, over the last decade, it’s perhaps slightly shaming that the real substance of the conflict, and its impact on Afghan lives, has featured so little in theatre in Britain. So it’s a huge pleasure to see the King’s Theatre in Edinburgh welcome Matthew Spangler’s The Kite Runner, adapted from the best-selling 2003 novel by Khaled Hosseini, perhaps the first big main-stage drama I have seen that deals with the tragedy of Afghanistan from an Afghan perspective.
Like all the best novels, Hosseini’s story starts not with politics, but with the intensely personal tale of two boys growing up together in a big house in Kabul in the 1970’s. Amir is a rich man’s son, Hassan is poor, the son of a house servant; but they fly kites together, play together, are firm friends, until the darkening political mood in Kabul leads Amir to an act of betrayal and cruelty that drives them apart for ever.
In outline, Hosseini’s novel is a slightly sentimental story of redemption, as Amir wins a chance, decades on, to make amends for his betrayal. What makes The Kite Runner an outstanding experience, though, is the detail of Afghan lives it highlights, as the story sweeps from Kabul to San Francisco, and Amir and his complicated, troubled father become refugees from the 1970’s Russian invasion, scraping a living alongside other exiles in a Californian flea-market.
Giles Croft’s fine, eloquent production – with superb live music from tabla-player Hanif Khan – dramatises all of this in a flowing, lyrical style, full of understated dance and glowing visual images. And if the plot becomes slightly far-fetched as the Taliban takes over in Afghanistan, and Matthew Spangler’s overlong adaptation finally surrenders too much to the rambling self-absorption of the first-person narrative, The Kite Runner remains an impressive and deeply moving show, presented with memorable passion by a 12-strong cast, and remarkable in its power to evoke both the beauty and resilience of Afghanistan, and the sheer human heartbreak of its recent history.
Compared wih The Kite Runner, Donna Franceschild’s Bridge, this week’s Play, Pie And Pint drama at Oran Mor, is a tiny play, without ambition to move beyond the bridge in Glasgow where the action is set. Yet it, too, has the gift of showing human lives in the context of the big social and political changes that shape them; in this case, a young woman broken by the combined pressures of motherhood, addiction, and social isolation, and a lonely unemployed man who sees her sitting by the bridge, and guesses at her motive for being there. The talk-down from a suicide threat is not an original scenario for a short play. Yet Franceschild shapes her drama with such skill and feeling – and such layers of truth, lies, intimacy and danger between her two characters – that she creates a riveting 50 minutes of 21st century drama; illuminated by superb performances from Eilidh McCormick as the woman, and Iain Robertson as Davy, the kindly man who decides not to pass by.