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Interview with The Kite Runner's David Ahmad
When I originally reviewed the thrilling stage version of The Kite Runner on its first appearance in the West End back in January, I wrote in my five-star review: "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."
Now, after its January success at Wyndham's Theatre, it is back in the West End for a summer run at the Playhouse Theatre, and original cast member David Ahmad -- who has been with the show for nearly four years now since its original 2013 premiere at Nottingham Playhouse (whose artistic director Giles Croft has directed) and Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse --has stepped up to the lead role of the narrator Amir, the son of a wealthy Kabul-based merchant in 1970s Kabul, whose story the play tells.
Ahmad, who turned 40 earlier this year and has been working as an actor since graduating from the University of Kent 18 years ago where he studied drama, has enjoyed being part of the long journey the show has gone on already, and proud to now be playing the lead, originally taken by Ben Turner. "After the initial productions at Nottingham and Liverpool, UK Productions took it up and toured it, and they required people to take on understudy responsibilities and they asked me to to be Ben's understudy on tour and in West End."
He'd been part of the process of rehearsals for the original production -- "we were all in the rehearsal room together at Nottingham Girls' School -- and I saw Ben play the part a hundred million times!," he jokes, as he played other roles in the company, including that of Kamal (one of the bullies) and the orphanage owner. "I's quite an epic role to undertake but I'm reasonably familiar with it."/p>
In the play version, his character provides the voice of the author: "It's a very theatrical style. The film was a very straight adaptation and lost the narrator, but he is really key to the stage version. I have to tell the story to the audience and I'm key to getting them involved in the importance of the story. There's something beautiful about the complicity between the narrator and the audience. It's simple, age-old storytelling."
The key to it, he feels, lies in this: "You have to look for humanity. It's an almost unfeasible journey; you have to take it a step at a time and find way through it moment to moment, and use those experiences that you've had to navigate each moment until finally a picture emerges. If you think of whole journey before set off, you'd never get anywhere -- it's too daunting a story, so you take it one moment at a time."
Though London-born and bred, Ahmad relates to the story through his own family history: "My father is from Pakistan -- he grew up in the north west of Pakistan close to the Afghan border, so culturally I've grown up around people like this. These characters could have been one of my own uncles of friends of the family -- I feel like I know these characters from when I was growing up."< /p>
The story, too, has universal resonances: "I don't know how Khaled did this, but you can't help but be touched by something in it. There's something epic and sprawling in the way it encounters all human emotions -- betrayal, love, loss of parent, relocation, refugees, bullying and childish play -- he manages to encapsulate it all."
And the actors, too, have bonded during the process. "The nature of the show requires a lot of fellow trust with the other actors -- we really bonded very strongly and have become fantastic friends." Ben Turner was back watching him from the stalls on the West End first night -- "he's always been massively supportive" -- but this time Ahmad is getting a proper chance to play it. "When I was understudying it last time, Ben had a night off and I had to fly by the seat of my pants!"
He enjoys the playfulness of theatre, and it is what informed his previous stint with the two-man clown show that is Potted Potter, a fast and furious distillation of the entire Harry Potter repertoire that long before Harry Potter and the Cursed Child brought the stories of the boy wizard to the West End and Off-Broadway stage, where it played a five month run at New York's Little Shubert Theatre, as well as in Australia.
"It was a totally different type of show, though it was the same in that we were telling the story direct to the audience -- there was no 4th wall. One of things I enjoy as an actor is to play with an audience - that's what theatre is. If you're just setting something up for people to watch, they should be in on it, that's when it becomes exciting for the audience as well as the performer."
And now he's thrilled to be in his first lead role in the West End. "It's incredibly exciting and terrifying at same time."