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Review: The Kite Runner at Liverpool Playhouse ***1/2

When the Everyman and Playhouse first co-produced The Kite Runner five years ago, it became both the play’s European premiere and also one of the most successful shows the theatres have had a hand in.

Five years, two tours and success in the West End later, Matthew Spangler’s adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s sprawling best-seller is back in Williamson Square as part of a third trip around the UK.

And The Kite Runner as a story has lost none of its power to excite deep emotions – pity, anger, loathing, impotence.

Hosseini’s multi-layered tale is played out across caste, class and continents, from the affluent suburbs of early 70s Kabul to the refugee immigrants scraping by in 80s America, to the casual viciousness of the ethnic cleansing Taliban in noughties Afghanistan.

At its heart is family and friendship, guilt and redemption.

Amir (Raj Ghatak) and Hassan (Jo Ben Ayed) grow up together as close as brothers, but society reminds them daily that one is privileged Pashtun, and the other is his servant and a member of the persecuted Hazara.

Raj Ghatak as Amir and Jo Ben Ayed as Hassan in The Kite Runner

One fateful episode on the day of the kite fighting competition, when Amir fails to save the loyal Hassan from the sociopath bully Assef (an excellent Soroosh Lavasini), sets in train a series of events which ultimately destroy relationships and lives, and which takes a generation to make good.

Ghatak bears the weight of responsibility as the piece’s narrator (with a Californian accent which rather jars in the Kabul sun) and as a character whose serial weaknesses make him hard to warm to. His is an easier presence in the second half where Amir and his tough-love businessman father Baba have to adapt together to a new life in the New World.

Ayed meanwhile brings a sweet vulnerability to Hassan, a boy who is all too aware of his place in the pecking order but who is devoted to his friend, whatever he throws at him.

The vile and degrading attack on him is handled discreetly, but still packs a punch in a first half that at times evokes a deep emotional response but at others frustratingly leaves you wanting more.

Live tabla music on stage creates an evocative atmosphere, and there’s an interesting use of projection, fanned out on kite wings on Barney George’s simple but effective set.

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