AFTER reading The Kite Runner, Isabel Allende, the great Chilean writer, was moved to write: “It is so powerful that for a long time after everything I read seemed bland.”
Allende isn’t alone in having being knocked for six by Khaled Hosseini’s much-loved fable of friendship, betrayal, guilt and redemption – it is loved by millions.
It was a lot to live up to adapting it for theatre but, judging by the plaudits and five-star reviews showered upon it since it was first staged last year, playwright Matthew Spangler and director Giles Croft’s production does justice to Hosseini’s page-turner.
It tells the story of Amir, the son of a wealthy Afghan merchant, and his best friend Hassan, the son of his father’s servant, who spend their days in peaceful 1970s Kabul flying kites – and how jealousy, fear and brutality tests their bond to its very limits as Afghanistan is plunged into a bloody war.
Heading up the impressive cast is Casualty’s Ben Turner, who gives a towering performance as Amir.
“I start by narrating the story, but then I also have to jump back to playing an eight-year-old boy, then jump out of the story back to the narration, then jump back into the story being a ten-year-old, then a twelve-year-old, a sixteen-year-old and so on... so there’s a range of stuff that I have to do,” says the 34-year-old actor, who describes it as the most challenging part he has ever played. “In terms of the range of stuff that I have to do, it’s just pretty full-on.
“It’s probably the most amount of work I’ve ever had to do in a show. I never leave the stage, so physically it’s really demanding. It’s like running a marathon every night.”
The Kite Runner tackles some weighty themes – and Turner says it’s almost Shakespearean in its scope.
“The themes are really big, and that’s what I love about this story,” he says. “Revenge, redemption, betrayal... the themes are huge. Just as people can latch on to Shakespeare, I think people can in this as well.
“But also, bigger than that, even though it’s about Afghanistan and mentions the war, it’s about words that we read about in newspapers everyday like Taliban, immigration and Afghanistan – we don’t really know what they mean.
“I think what this story does brilliantly is that it just humanises it, because, essentially, it’s about a family and that’s it.
“It’s a family that is surrounded by these things, but really it’s just about two boys and a father and their love for each other.
“That is universal, whether you are from Scunthorpe or Afghanistan. Family is family.
“We’re so proud of it as a cast and company,” he adds. “The response has been mind-blowing, This play sucks you in and you can’t help it.
“So it’s been incredibly rewarding to do every night, even though my knees are shot to s*** and my back is screwed, and I’ve got marks all over my neck!”
When The Kite Runner opens its week-long run at the King’s Theatre on Monday, it will be Turner’s first visit to Edinburgh in more than a decade.
“I’m very, very excited to be coming back,” he says. “When I was a kid, about 18 or 19 year old, I did the Edinburgh Festival.
“It wouldn’t be anything you’d know. It was awesome, but also kind of cringe-worthy what we were doing.
“But I can’t wait to come back – it’s a beautiful, beautiful city and I love it.”
The Kite Runner, King’s Theatre, Leven Street, Monday until Saturday, 7.30pm, matinees Wednesday and Saturday, 2.30pm, £14-£27.50, 0131-229 3416