The Kite Runner

3 October
The Lowry

Adapted by Matthew Spangler and directed by Giles Croft, The Kite Runner, which received rave reviews in London’s West End for both runs, was recently showing at The Lowry. The cast and production team received a standing ovation for their excellent efforts in bringing a popular book to the stage, a task which is never easy.

Remaining faithfully close to the novel by Khaled Hosseini, the stage play begins with the protagonist and narrator Amir (David Ahmad) recalling the winter of 1975. Through childhood games and antics with his friend, the servant’s son, it was the winter that changed everything. Ahmad flits between narrating and playing Amir quite artfully at times, but it’s distracting and does take time to get used to the children in the story being played by adult actors.

Generational and class identities in Afghanistan and then in the USA are under scrutiny, as the tables turn. Where Amir and his father were once privileged in Kabul, once they migrate they learn new ways in a new society. Amir’s father becomes weaker and a shadow of his former self, whilst Amir must become stronger and take charge. Where Amir once was a lonely child, often feeling neglected by his father, as time moves on, Amir becomes his father’s companion.

A tale about friendship, family, betrayal and guilt, the moving performances by Amir, his father (Emilio Doorgasingh) and Hassan (Jo Ben Ayed) enable the audience to reflect upon universal themes of love and loss. The stage set has been cleverly designed to seamlessly move between San Francisco and Wazir Akbar Khan in Kabul. The projections onto a giant kite help the audience to travel between the significant places in Amir’s life and on his journeys. Tabla player Hanif Khan remains on the stage throughout, performing at the poignant and significant moments, adding both sorrow and celebration when necessary to the dramatic discourse.

Codeswitching also contributes to the production’s authenticity. The wedding scene adds some warmth and romance to a play that has many dark and brutal moments. The dancing kites beautifully remind us of the childhood innocence of the young boys and their passion for flying kites.

The second act is long, but gripping enough to fly by, as the pace quicken when we learn about how Amir comes to seek atonement. Marrying Soraya (Amiera Darwish) brings a sense of stability to his life, but he is still not at peace. He must seek redemption. Although it may feel too late, the arduous and haunting physical and metaphorical journey that Amir undergoes perhaps strikes a chord with an audience who might have come to sympathise with Amir as he desperately searches for a way to redeem himself.

Sadia Habib

Inset photo by Betty Laura Zapata.

Our Town

25 September
Royal Exchange Theatre

Thornton Wilder’s moving play about the lives of folks in Grover’s Corners - a small town in the United States of America with a population of 2,642 - could be a play about small towns anywhere in the world, with their railways, stores, schools, banks, places of worship and the homes of the local inhabitants. A nice town. But a town that “nobody very remarkable ever come out of, as far as we know”.

“In our town, we like to know the facts about everyone.”

Director Sarah Frankcom remains faithful to the original story by focusing on the characters’ everyday lives, allowing the audience to appreciate a minimal stage where props aren’t an ongoing necessity. The characters divulge to us the objects of their lives through mime. Within the meta-theatrical play, the friendly stage manager (Youssef Kerkour) addresses the audience directly to guide us through Grover’s Corners, as one might reproduce an ethnographic account examining the multiple moments in the life and culture of a small town.

We witness the breakfast time rituals as Mrs Gibbs (Carla Henry) and Mrs Webb (Kelly Hotten) ready their children for school and send them on their way. We observe Joe Crowell delivering the newspapers and Constable Warren on his rounds.

What happens to the ‘sensible’ and ‘diligent’? And what happens to the ‘lazy’ and ‘quarrelsome’?

What are the dreams and hopes of these people who live in Grover’s Corners? How do they understand matters of life and death? What are the socio-political circumstances of their lives? Editor Webb can provide some sort of knowledge about the political and religious leanings, as well as the social class categories of the town, while we as an audience gain a glimpse of gender relations and parent-child relations, by watching the scenes unfold. The burning questions we might wish to know about such towns: Is there much drinking in Grover’s Corners?; Is there no-one in town aware of social injustice and industrial inequality?; and Why don’t do they something about it?

Set in the early 1900s, the play continues to resonate a century later as the themes of growing up, love and marriage, and eventually departing the world are timeless rites of passage. The local Manchester choirs, who accompany the most poignant moments, highlight the contemplations on life moments.

Director Sarah Frankcom manages to negotiate moments of light humour alongside dark and serious undertones for the audience to reflect on the meanings and matters of life, marriage and death. And all of this is done in a way which means we make the most of our imaginations, fully participating in immersing ourselves in a different, but refreshingly welcome, way of doing theatre.

Sadia Habib

Our Town runs until 14 October at the Royal Exchange Theatre.
Inset and background photos by Stephen King.

Letters To Morrissey

12 September

“If you don’t know who Morrissey is… get out!”

This one-man show brought to us by award-winning actor and playwright Gary McNair is a moving portrait of childhood in a small place outside of Glasgow. Directed by Gareth Nicholls, the theatre’s associate director, Letters To Morrissey follows up McNair’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe First hit, A Gambler’s Guide to Dying, which featured in HOME’s Orbit festival in 2016.

“I am human and I need to be loved, just like everybody else does.”

The production draws on the joys and struggles of recollections of growing up in working class Scotland circa 1997, explored through letters written to Morrissey by a lonely 11-year-old from the outskirts of Glasgow. Disconnected from the people in his hometown who sometimes terrify and other times trouble a young lad with “Mick Hucknall hair”, he tries - unsuccessfully - to stay under the radar. His most special friend, Tony, has drifted away. There are vicious rumours around town about Tony, but he defends Tony.

One day, he sees Morrissey on the television and is mesmerised by his lyrics: “This guy gets it,” like nobody else does. After realisation dawns that Monday morning meetings with McKinnon the indiscreet Freud-loving schoolteacher, with his “do one thing every day” safe space, are not helping, and taking on the teacher’s suggestion to talk to a trusted one, soon he begins writing letters to Morrissey. After all, who else can he talk to? The doctor? The priest? The lollipop lady? Most definitely not Tony, who has abandoned their friendship.

The letters are beautiful: sometimes contemplative, pleading and heart-breaking; other times optimistic, pondering or hopeful. Signed off as “the boy with the thorn in his side”. Returning 20 years on to his “shite” town, finding those letters and reflecting on the ups and downs of childhood, he introduces us to these memories by re-enacting key moments that changed his life. The setting is his bedroom filled with vinyl and books such as the collected works of Oscar Wilde, but we are transported to other places that were significant in the life of this young boy.

While others might have deemed Morrissey a “flagrant narcissist” with “increasingly desperate and problematic sound bites” at a time the pop charts were girl band oriented, Morrissey was the gateway for the working class youth as he “dared” them “not to fit in”.

The energy in the one-man show is tangible and exciting. It’s not easy to pull off such a spectacular solo show. Nicholls and McNair have created a production that is humorous and moving, leaving a lasting impression of how childhood experiences and relationships remain with us even decades later, and how we might seek solace in the most unexpected people and places.

Sadia Habib

Inset photo by David Moneith-Hodge.