REVIEW: ‘The Kite Runner’ @ Theatre Royal Brighton

June 12, 2024

Khaled Hosseini’s beloved novel The Kite Runner has been adapted for the stage with searing emotional intensity. The wrenching drama, currently touring the UK, has landed at Theatre Royal Brighton, offering audiences a visceral journey into the violent rifts of Afghan society and the way toxic masculinity poisons generation after generation, this is a searing examination, writ large.

At its core, this is a story about the ways the sins of the fathers are visited upon the sons. Patriarchal attitudes and power dynamics flow through the male relationships like a merciless rip current, causing untold harm. And yet, even in the darkest moments, there are startling flashes of beauty – precious snippets where life bursts forth in spite of the surrounding awfulness.

The play opens in the idyllic Kabul of the 1970s, where the affluent Amir and his servant’s son Hassan while away sun-drenched afternoons flying kites and racing for the last downed fighter. Their innocent friendship represents the polar opposite of the noxious masculinity that will later tear them apart. Hassan’s determination to retrieve the prized kite speaks to a life of subservience, while Amir’s feelings of cowardly guilt in the aftermath of him witnessing horrific violence, speak to his immense privilege and fragility.

From the opening domestic scenes, we get a sense of the deeply-rooted rituals and traditions soon to be upended by larger geopolitical forces. Amir’s tense relationship with his father Baba proves to be the first in a cascading sequence of strained father-son dynamics. Baba’s gruff demeanour and disappointment in the artistic Amir sets the stage for the explosive anger, entitlement and resentments to come.

When the Soviet tanks roll into Kabul, it triggers the first exodus – an early wave of violence that will see the brutal sundering of families and communities. While they flee, they are stopped by a solider intent on abuse aimed at a silent woman. It is a chilling reminder that while the play centers on the fraternal and paternal threads, the voices and stories of Afghan women remain largely unheard.

The first half includes an act of unconscionable depravity made even more devastating by Amir’s cowardly failure to intercede. Bully Assef’s seething diatribes about ethnic superiority and his twisted idea of manhood speak to the poisonous ideologies about to tear the nation apart. We soon see the full-scale invasion by the Soviet forces, and Amir and Baba’s flight to Pakistan and eventual immigration to the United States.


Act two finds Amir and father -Baba eking out a meagre existence in California, grappling not only with their trauma but their new status as powerless immigrants in an alien culture. Amir has a chance at redemption when he learns that Hassan’s son Sohrab has been orphaned and fallen into the hands of the Taliban. His quest to rescue the boy brings him back to the decimated nation of his birth, forcing him to confront his own cowardice as well as the new generation of Taliban brutality.

In a breathtaking scene, Amir finally comes face-to-face with the unrepentant Assef, now a high-ranking Taliban leader gleefully wielding the same twisted ideologies from their youth. Their clash – pitting Amir’s meek defiance against Assef’s monstrous force – proves to be the dramatic high point. That it culminates in unexpected tragedy underscores the way violence begets only more violence in this scorched part of the world.

The production skillfully weaves gallows humour and moments of soaring beauty amidst the unrelenting darkness. In one interlude, the families gather for a joyous celebration of Afghan culture, complete with rapturous music and dancing. These interludes remind us of the resilience of the human spirit – the stubborn will to find light, colour and community even in the bleakest of circumstances.

On the technical side, the live musical accompaniment by tabla drummer Hanif Khan is simply exquisite. Khan’s subtle modulations and deft improvisations provide the emotional rhythms that underpin the unfolding drama. His playing evokes the celebratory as well as the mournful, the tranquil as well as the violent. It is a stirring reminder of the richness of Afghan culture and its deep artistic traditions.

The simple set design, with trailing cloths and sail-like scrims, allows for fluid scene transitions while evoking the dust and wind-swept landscapes of the Central Asian region. The evocative lighting casts mesmerising shadows, at times engulfing the stage in an eerie amber glow reminiscent of desert sunsets.

Full list of cast and creatives here:

Ultimately, the triumph of this adaptation rests on the shoulders of the phenomenal cast and their ability to breathe empathetic life into their flawed characters. As Amir, Stuart Vincent navigates the tricky transition from a callow, self-absorbed youth to a spiritually shattered but determined man seeking absolution and rebirth. His performance forms the vulnerably human core around which the cyclical tragedies unfurl.

Equally compelling is Yazdan Qafouri’s searing turn as Hassan, and later as the young Sohrab. Qafouri imbues Hassan with an unshakable dignity in the face of injustice and cruelty, making his fate all the more devastating. His reunion as Sohrab with Amir resonates with both guarded trepidation and a desperate yearning for the only family connection he has left in the world. Their halting attempts to bridge the chasm of inherited trauma is heartbreaking to witness.

For all its bleakness and the way violence permeates every facet of the story, there is a cathartic quality to The Kite Runner‘s final moments. Amir achieves a modicum of redemption, both for his past sins and for the collective sins of patriarchal Afghan society. The cycle of violence can indeed be broken, posits Hosseini, but only through a conscious repudiation of that ingrained toxic masculinity. It is a sobering but vital reminder that the sins of the fathers must end with the current generation of sons if humanity has any hope of breaking free.

The Kite Runner soars as an emotionally harrowing but ultimately life-affirming statement about the costs of unchecked male ego and aggression. By dramatising the way patriarchal power erodes families, cultures and entire nations, it sounds a clarion call for more compassionate models of masculinity to emerge from the ashes of conflict.

For queer audiences and allies grappling with their own experiences of violence and trauma at the hands of patriarchal forces, this production offers ample catharsis as well as a defiant rallying cry to confront those generational harms. It is a night of theatre that will leave you emotionally spent but perhaps just a little more determined to challenge the paradigms that lead to such sorrow.

Until Saturday, 15 June at Theatre Royal Brighton

For more info or to book tickets see the Theatre Royal Brighton’s website here.