I was really pleased to see that the Kite Runner had been adapted into a play by Matthew Spangler from the original novel written by Khaled Hosseini. It was being shown at the Liverpool Playhouse with live in-house captioning at the weekend. This has been one of my wife Joanna’s favourite books since she read it when it was first published in 2003, and I really enjoyed watching the film when it was released in 2007.
We were going up to visit my mother for the weekend, who lives not far away in Cheshire, so we thought it would be a great opportunity to see this play while we were there. It is on its first UK tour and it has received really good reviews. It would also be the first time that I had seen a captioned theatre performance outside of London. I was curious to find out how the story could be translated onto the stage, as it is such an epic ‘emotional rollercoaster’ of a novel, spanning three decades of the characters’ lives. The action takes place not only in Afghanistan but also the US, where the main character Amir and his father fled to as refugees.
Joanna and I arrived in Liverpool off the train on a warm Saturday afternoon. It felt like a breath of fresh air to get out of the humidity of London for a while. As we approached the Playhouse in the city centre, the sun was shining brightly on the billboard outside this iconic-looking theatre advertising the Kite Runner in large red letters.
The theatre was fairly small and cosy inside. As we made our way to our seats in the dress circle, we noticed the captioner at the back. We introduced ourselves, had a brief chat and she told us her name was Marion. We told her how much we were looking forward to it.
We had really good seats in the front row of the dress circle with an excellent view of the captioning units on both sides of the stage. I’m now getting better at glancing at the captions while watching the actors move across the stage. The live captioning was perfect, particularly since there were lots of Afghan names and the dialogue was sometimes in Farsi or even Russian as well as English. I have to pay tribute to the skill and experience of Marion here. Joanna told me that reading the captioning made it easier for her to follow too as she had difficulty understanding some of the dialogue.
There was an Afghan drummer onstage before the performance began. He evoked the atmosphere of Afghanistan and he continued to beat his drums in the background throughout the play. The story of the Kite Runner is complex, with several interweaving stories and themes being played out over a period of thirty years. It begins in the Afghanistan of the mid-1970s, which had been peaceful for forty years, and moves through the time of the Soviet War from 1979-1989, then the time of the rebel Mujahideens, and more recently, the infamous Taliban. The main story though, is all about guilt and redemption, and this message is developed throughout the play.
There were many powerful, emotional scenes, which I found harrowing to watch and heartbreaking, so they must have been very difficult to act. Despite this, I felt that the actors managed to play their characters in a very convincing and deeply moving way.
The main actor, Ben Turner, who played the central character Amir, had a really difficult role to play as he had to narrate the story and act the role of Amir as both a child and an adult. He never left the stage throughout the entire play. The role of his angelic, self-sacrificing best friend and servant, Hassan, was also brilliantly played by Farshid Rokey.
There were also some wonderful scenes, which were beautiful to watch such as the kite flying scenes in Afghanistan, which were magical, and a really funny scene where Amir and his father were in San Francisco, having recently arrived from Afghanistan, and they were confronted by a huge culture shock of being surrounded by laid-back Californian hippies dancing and singing all around them.
I thought that this adaptation worked really well and it managed to convey a sense of gritty realism and powerful emotion on the stage. At the end, the cast received a warm northern reception as there was a full standing ovation from the audience, something not often seen in the theatres of London.
We both really enjoyed seeing this performance in Liverpool and I hope that there will be more choice of captioned performances across the country in the future, so that many more deaf and hard of hearing people living outside of London can enjoy live captioned performances at the theatre. I am looking to find a captioned performance on soon in Manchester, so that I can go with my stepfather, who uses a hearing aid. He has never seen a live captioned performance before and was unaware of them until recently. I know that it would really improve his experience of going to the theatre, which he really loves.