After two West Ends seasons playing to more than 100,000 people The Kite Runner is heading out on a UK tour, much to the delight of director Giles Croft.
“Clearly there’ll be people who know it and they’ll have their reactions and responses,” he says of the acclaimed stage adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s best-selling novel, “but I’ve seen how people who come into contact with it for the first time are so profoundly moved by it.”
Adapted by American playwright Matthew Spangler and premiering in California in 2009 (six years after the book was first published and two years after the film version came out), Giles first brought it to the UK in 2014 as a Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company/ Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse production.
Shortlisted for a WhatsOnStage Award for best regional production, it transferred to the Wyndham’s Theatre in the West End in 2016, where The Stage called it “spellbinding” and was such a hit during its limited run that it returned to the West End, this time at the Playhouse Theatre, just four months later.
Croft, who was artistic director at Nottingham Playhouse for 18 years and directed more than 50 productions there before stepping down last November, rates The Kite Runner as a soaring highlight of his career so far.
“The response is always extraordinarily powerful and we are fortunate to get standing ovations at every performance, with audiences connecting deeply and emotionally with the characters and the story,” he says.
Hewing closely to Hosseini’s book, it features well-to-do Amir as the regretful narrator of a tale in which, as a child in 1970s Kabul, he abandoned his friend, servant and the kite runner of the title Hassan during a savage attack by a neighbourhood bully.
Three decades later Amir is living in America, working as a successful novelist, when he gets the chance to atone – making a dangerous return to his now Taliban-controlled homeland on the eve of America’s invasion.
It is, Giles strongly believes, a story with universal resonance.
“It speaks to all people through the core themes of guilt, forgiveness and redemption. Those are things that we all have some connection with. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are, it will speak to you.”
Raj Ghatak, who plays Amir in the touring production, agrees. He read the book when it first came out.
“And I thought it was beautiful,” he says of a tale which he feels speaks to all cultures. As much as it’s a story that travels between Afghanistan and America, everybody can identify with it on some level.”
Jo Ben Ayed, who played Hassan on tour last year and is reprising the role for the 2018 dates, underlines his co-star’s view.
“It’s so relevant with everything that’s going on in the world,” says the young actor.
“It shows that if we forget our past then history will repeat itself. It provides context for the Taliban era, asking ‘What led up to it?’ and ‘What were the causes for it?’.
“Things are still brimming, with everyone kind of on the edge in the world, so it’s important to get the themes of this story across – that we’re all the same and we shouldn’t be fighting.”
Hosseini was working as a doctor in California when he wrote The Kite Runner, never imagining that after its publication in 2003 it would go on to sell more than 20million copies – helped by no greater a champion than Oprah Winfrey as well as the success of the 2007 film adaptation.
Coming out after the 9/11 attacks, the story resonated with readers who weren’t necessarily familiar with Afghanistan and the Taliban before the Twin Towers fell.
Matthew Spangler did his adaptation before the film came out, using Hosseini’s concept of Amir as the first-person narrator and sticking closely to the story rather than using plot diversions added for the movie.
They did a fine job with the film,” he says, “but to me the heart of The Kite Runner is the narration – hearing the main character tell you his story and why these events are so significant.”
Matthew and Khaled both live in the San Francisco Bay area so they met to discuss the project.
The playwright hopes audiences will be moved by the stage adaptation. “It’s a very sad but hopeful and moving story,” he says.
“Maybe people will leave with a greater understanding of the themes and it’s great if they do, but at the very basic level it’s a piece of storytelling and emotion.”
•The Kite Runner is at Newcastle Theatre Royal from April 30-May 5. Tel. 08448 112121.
We’ve teamed up with Theatre Royal Newcastle to give away a pair of tickets to The Kite Runner for opening night on April 30.
Please note the production is recommended for ages 14-plus and features some scenes which may shock.
To be in with a chance of winning the tickets, answer this question: In which Middle Eastern country is The Kite Runner set?
Send your answer, along with your name and contact details, to The Kite Runner Competition, Katy Wheeler, Johnston Press North East, 2nd Floor, Alexander House, 1 Mandarin Road, Rainton Bridge Business Park, Houghton, Sunderland, DH4 5RA.
Alternatively, email your answer and contact details to Katy.Wheeler@jpress.co.uk
Closing date: April 26.