Wyndham's, a perfect jewel of a London playhouse on Charing Cross Road, is one of the most sought-after venues in theatreland, and typically hosts a rotating roster of star actors. It was here that Madonna made her London stage acting debut; Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart have just departed after a run in Pinter's No Man's Land, and next up is former Doctor Who David Tennant leading the cast of Patrick Marber's Don Juan in Soho.
But in-between has first come the unexpected delight of The Kite Runner, a seemingly modest but deeply felt piece of rich storytelling theatre, that ha been deservedly been brought to the West End after two runs in regional theatres, first as a collaboration between Nottingham Playhouse (whose artistic director Giles Croft has directed) and Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse in 2013 and then on a regional tour.
There are no star names; just a good story, beautifully told, to lure in audiences. There's some title recognition, of course -- the original 2003 novel has sold 31m copies in 60 languages, and it was also turned into an Oscar-nominated film in 2007. But the great joy of Matthew Spangler stage version of Khaled Hosseini's novel is how it gives the story a vivid, pulsing and imaginative theatrical life; it brings us close and personal to this most personal of stories of childhood friendship, betrayal and making amends.
Amir, the son of a wealthy Kabul-based merchant in 1970s Kabul, is best friends with Hassan, the son of his father's trusted, long-standing servant. They've grown up, speaking their first words together; and teaming up as a championship pair of kite competition flyers, Amir flying it, Hassan tracking it and retrieving it when it finally lands.
And as a piece of theatre, it continually lands with thought and feeling. The story embraces so much, offering a poignant portrait of pre-Russian invasion and the Taliban-ruled aftermath of life in Afghanistan, and the diaspora that results when Amir and his father relocate themselves to live in California.
Here it's a struggle to make their way; but the play unsentimentally charts the journey they go on -- and Amir's eventual return to Afghanistan, seeking to put right one of the big wrongs of his life when he betrayed Hassan as a child. It is grippingly played by a cast led by Ben Turner as Amir, and Andrei Costin doing double duty as Amir's childhood friend Hassan, and later Hassan's own son Sohrab. Emilio Doorgasingh and Eza Raroque Khan are equally superb as their respective fathers.
And in case you're wondering, they even manage to fly an indoor kite on the Wyndham's stage! But the production is economical rather than lavish, and all the better for it. It's a charmer as well as heartbreaking.
What the Press Said...
"I applaud once again the way Croft (serving the script of US author Matthew Spangler) uses the barest theatrical means to transport us around the world."
Dominic Cavendish for The Telegraph
"Matthew Spangler’s workmanlike adaptation of the bestselling novel about Afghanistan does a decent job but reduces it to a series of chronological events."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"It’s indestructible. And Giles Croft’s production is performed with a sturdy integrity and staged with impressive economy."
Paul Taylor for The Independent