The Kite Runner – Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne – A Techie’s Review
The Kite Runner: A Techie’s Review
Last week, I was fortunate enough to be a theatre audience member. For someone who works in a theatre, this is a big deal. I could appreciate the art without worrying about the craft. My performance of choice? The Kite Runner at the Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne. I accompanied a group of A Level Drama students, who are studying the play in class. Please note that there may be some plot spoilers.
Walking towards the stalls, the sounds of a tabla drifted down the corridor towards us. At first, I thought this was the house music, played over the PA to set the ambience and location. Much to my delight, the tabla was in fact being played by a live musician. Adorned in traditional Afghan clothing, with a dimly lit stage behind him, he was mesmerising. Once the seat finding and fidgeting ends, the audience are immediately transported to Afghanistan, where the play begins.
Throughout, the play is wrought with moments of intensity. Some are uncomfortable, and others jubilant. Such moments were punctuated by certain on/offstage sounds.
Firstly, the tabla player. He remained onstage for the duration, taking up the downstage left corner in the first act, and downstage right in the second. During certain scenes of dramatic importance, he used the tabla to highlight the action. The rhythms kept the pace of Amir’s narration at important plot points: describing his friendship with Hassan, then his betrayal. The unpleasant and shocking encounters with Assef, and the kite fighting. As Amir’s descriptions became more and more animated, the tabla rhythms followed suit. If Amir had a dramatic pause, so did the tabla. If something untoward was about to happen, the tabla was wary and cautious.
As with the tabla, prayer bowls were a distinct feature during the play. At all significant plot points, three or four prayer bowls were layered underneath the music. The metallic drone was so cacophonous that the audience had to really concentrate to hear the dialogue. It felt almost as if you were living Amir’s memories with him. It was like one of those moments where you’re told something you don’t want to hear – your ears start ringing, your head goes woozy and the person talking fades into the background. This was the most effective and unnerving during scenes with Assef, who torments Amir and Hassan, eventually commiting a heinous act against him. The sound hypnotises you, draws your eyes to the stage, you want to look away because you know Assef is in the wrong but there is nothing you can do about it.
My favourite addition to the soundscape was the use of handheld windmakers. Cast members would come onstage holding these strange wooden objects, and start spinning them, a bit like a skipping rope. Whenever Amir talked about kite fighting, kite running, flying kites, these windmakers were there to simulate the sound of wind. In the final scene, Amir describes going to the park in San Francisco and winning a kite fight. He then offers to ‘run’ it for his nephew, and as he describes the feeling of running through the streets, chasing a kite, the windmakers build up in speed. As an audience member, you can almost feel the wind on your own face, as if you are running too. The noise they created was akin to the sound of wind rushing past your ears, and was much better than an artificial sound effect.
In terms of the staging, it was all fairly straightforward. The interesting factor for me was the use of a large square carpet, placed centrestage. It was unrolled when the play started, and created a physical and visual reference point for the audience. The storyline is largely anecdotal; Amir is telling us the story of his life, which amounts to the majority of the narration. He also steps into his memories and acts them out for us. I noticed that whenever he was narrating, he used the stage areas around the carpet (usually downstage), but when he stepped into his memories, he also stepped onto the carpet. Depending on the scenario, sometimes a ‘carpet image’ was projected from directly above. This was a subtle change, but it helped with transference from one place to the next.
On the whole, the lighting was fairly simple. There are two moments that I would like to mention, however:
1. When Amir’s father takes Hassan and Ali to the bus station.
The stage becomes dark and cold, and three pairs of yellow lights appear from the CYC. Amir tells us how Hassan and Ali get on the bus, and it drives away. As he says this, one pair of lights slowly fades out, as if they were the headlights of the bus.
2. Amir’s phonecall with Soraya.
Again, the stage is darker, with light only on Amir and Soraya. They are standing at a diagonal, him downstage, her upstage. The light sources are from downstage right and centrestage right. Both characters are facing the same direction, a whole stage apart. The darkness between them, created by their positioning onstage and the light on them, symbolises the distance between them.
My final observation is projection. I have briefly touched on this with the carpet, however there was more projection in the play than this alone. In the absence of large pieces of set, instead there was a wooden structure at the very back of the stage. When the story was in Afghanistan, it was a wooden fence, and when we were in San Francisco, it became a cityscape through projection.
There were also two large, kite shaped wings which were lowered to allow tent-like rooms to be implied, and were a perfect surface for more projection. Perhaps the most hard hitting moment was during Rahim Khan’s account of Hassan’s life after leaving Afghanistan. Part of the story is depicted in silhouette onto one of the wings. Hearing the words is tragic enough, but seeing it really tears at the heart strings.
To conclude, I found the play mesmerising and engaging. My eyes were glued to the stage from start to finish. The technical aspects were not overly complicated, but were effective nonetheless. The intentions were clear, and it goes to show that sometimes, less is more! If you get the opportunity to see this production, take it.