Set in Afghanistan in the 1970s the play tells the story of Amir, a privileged child growing up in 1970s Kabul, with his servant Hassan. The boys are divided by class but more importantly by religion. The story revolves around Amir's guilt at his treatment of the young Hassan, haunting memories punish him and he seeks repentance in the following decades.
Narrating the play, Amir takes the audience back to his childhood. He's frank about the barriers that separate him from Hassan. They grow up together, but Amir never thinks of Hassan as a friend because Amir is Sunni and Hassan from the minority Shia a - and there's centuries old rivalry between the two.
The friendship is one sided. Hassan is intensely loyal, Amir selfish and cruel. He turns his back on his old 'friend' when Hassan is being brutally attacked by the neighbourhood bully and it's this betrayal that becomes the dark shadow over his life.
Interwoven into the plot is the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and subsequent take over by the Taliban, all brought alive by the evocative music of tabla player Hanif Khan, who sits front of stage throughout, and takes the audience straight to the streets of Kabul.
It's always difficult adapting such an astonishingly successful book into a stage play, but Matthew Spangler has done a great job, it's not perfect, but the play grabbed the audience and held it tight. The atmosphere was intense, you could hear a pin drop in the theatre. At times I could hardly watch.
Raj Ghatak , as Amir, and Jo Ben Ayed as Hussan both give powerful performances.
I felt a little awkward watching Ghatak pretend to be a child playing aeroplanes - the adaption doesn't use child actors - but his performance grew stronger in an emotionally charged narration. Ayed's performance as the sweet and innocent Hassan was heartbreaking.
This isn't a play to see if you want uplifting, there are dark scenes - but it is a story of love and friendship that had me giving a standing ovation.
The Kite Runner is on at the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, until Saturday.