Friday 22 June 2018

Here's a Kite that plods rather than runs

  • The Kite Runner, Gaiety Theatre Dublin
  • Love a la Mode, Smock Alley Dublin
Raj Ghatak and cast in The Kite Runner. Photo: Betty Zapata
Raj Ghatak and cast in The Kite Runner. Photo: Betty Zapata
Fionnuala Gygax, Colm Lennon and Caitlin Scott in 'Love a la Mode'

Emer O'Kelly

Emer O'Kelly sees a turgid adaptation and a fairly sparkling period farce.

Since it has the same director (Giles Croft) and designer (Barney George), the multi-production (two companies and two different UK theatres) of Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner - currently at the Gaiety in Dublin - is probably aimed at portraying itself as that which played earlier in the year at Wyndham's in London. Except the London run had a fairly star-studded cast, and this doesn't.

Headed by Raj Ghatak as Amir and Gary Pillai as Baba - the Afghan son and father caught in a tragedy of epic proportions - the cast in fact deliver with conviction and determination. But more than that is needed to compensate for a stage adaptation which can only be described as turgid. To elaborate, it's an unsubtly chronological narrative format for what is an immensely complex and emotionally intense novel.

Hosseini's novel is full of unlikely coincidences, and floats over sequences which deal offhandedly with enormously difficult logistics (such as a dispossessed dying man in Pakistan, out of touch with his past, being able to contact a child of that past in California with little or no difficulty), while various outcomes are so obvious as to make the protagonists seem mildly moronic in not anticipating them, rather the way police are portrayed in old-fashioned detective novels about amateur sleuths.

But the novel's language and emotional insights, as well as the passion of its theme of moral cowardice, regret and redemption, enable the reader to suspend disbelief and excuse the improbabilities.

Stripped of its linguistic and varied subtleties, however, the play becomes merely an over-long narration that makes Amir's long agony of regret and guilt seem merely dreary and self-indulgent.

And while Ghatak can manage to convey the gawky innocence of a 12-year-old in the early sequences, Jo Ben Ayed, as the illiterate playmate whom he abandons to a ghastly fate has much more difficulty, just as he does when doubling the role of Sorab, the boy deus-ex-machina of Amir's middle-aged redemption.

And as for the tragic complexity of recent Afghan history in this staging; what tragic complex recent history?

*******

Arguably the most important element to remember when producing and playing farce is that the larger and harder the force employed, the flatter the farce falls. And the cast of Felicity's production of Charles Macklin's Love a la Mode seem to have forgotten the maxim, somewhat to its overall detriment, despite a programme note which references the sublime Blackadder, which is a supreme example of the genius of playing straight.

That is not to say that this production doesn't work. In many ways it does, and the cast's exuberant enthusiasm is to be admired rather than condemned. But despite company "incorporation", it retains most of the elements of a student production, good and bad.

A programme note from the company dramaturg (and producer) David O'Shaughnessy, who also happens to be associate professor for 18th Century studies in the school of English at Trinity, may explain the good bits: the verve, the absence of tiresomely leaden attempts at "relevance" and the overall sense of fidelity to what 18th Century comedy represented. The note is also refreshingly free from nationalist revisionism in its dealings with a time when Dublin was "the second city of the Empire".

The youth and professional inexperience of the cast and director carry the responsibility for far too much clownish over-acting which detracts from the cleverness of the original characterisation, and turns them into caricature. But even that doesn't disguise some very real talent on stage.

Macklin was Irish, and Love a la Mode is the story of the triumph of a war-weary and upright Irish military gentleman (Stephen O'Leary) who wins the hand of his extremely rich fair lady (Caitlin Scott) over the machinations of three fortune-hunters, the devious Scot Sir Archie MacSarcasm (Colm Lennon), the decadent Macaroni Mr Mordecai (Fionnuala Gygax), and the boorish North Country Squire Groom (Honi Cooke.)

The company, presumably under the advice of their dramaturg, have used the device of a modern prologue (which doesn't really work) and the supposed indisposition of the actor playing the noble Sir Callaghan O'Brallaghan, requiring the part to be "walked" with the aid of the script by the understudy (Stephen O'Leary), which does work: splendidly. And it allows for some tongue-in-cheek horseplay on the side, as when he loses more than the plot, with a duel including the declaration "Have at you, you f***king prick!"

The cast is completed by Morgan Cooke as Charlotte's guardian, and direction is by Colm Summers in a design by Aine O'Hara. It's at Smock Alley in Dublin.

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