Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Matthew Spangler - The Kite Runner

It seemed like there weren't many books dealing with a contemporary
immigrant's experience before Khaled Hosseini's debut novel, The Kite
Runner, was published in 2003. It was this quality that first attracted
playwright Matthew Spangler to adapt Hosseini's tale of two boyhood
friends – Amir  and Hassan -  growing up in Afghanistan against a
backdrop of war for the stage. With both men living in the same
Californian neighbourhood, Hosseini and Spangler met up for coffee,
with the end result being Spangler's adaptation of The Kite Runner,
currently on a UK tour in a co-production by Nottingham Playhouse and
Liverpool Playhouse, and which arrives in Edinburgh next week.

“I first read the book in 2005,” says Spangler, “and a lot of it is set
locally to me, in the area where the family in the novel move to. The
first attraction to me was that it was a book about the immigrant's
experience, but it's a book about many things. It's a love story, a
father-son story, it's a book about two best friends, and so on, so
there are all these  things going on in it, and there's something there
for everyone to grab hold of.”

Spangler developed and directed  an early version of the play at San
Jose State University in 2007, where he is an associate professor of
performance studies. The fact that the main character in the book
actually attends San Jose State gave the production an extra frisson
for the students who performed in it. The Kite Runner received its
professional premiere two years later, also in San Jose, since when it
has been seen in several American and Canadian productions prior to
making its UK debut in 2013.

“The book has a huge following,” Spangler observes, “and people who
come along to see the play are going to notice the changes, so you have
to be faithful to its essence, but you can't put everything in.
Fortunately Khaled Hosseini is a very generous person, and when we met
and I told him my ideas, most of his comments about them were about
things that he would change if he were writing the book today.”

One of the things that Spangler was aware of was representing Afghan
culture as accurately as possible.

“As a playwright I was very concerned about accuracy,” Spangler says.
“By putting something on a stage you're already doing something that
isn't accurate, but if you're going to do that, you have to represent
the details of Afghan culture without being offensive. For instance, a
wedding scene would take an entire day if we were going to portray it
accurately, but you have to try and condense that into just a few
minutes. For each production we've hired a cultural consultant, just to
make sure we get things right about characters who would or wouldn't
shake hands with another character. It's not every play you need a
cultural consultant. You wouldn't need one on a Martin McDonagh play,
for instance, but in this case it's necessary.”

Spangler's previous work has included solo versions of James Joyce's
Dubliners and Finnegans Wake, as well as an adaptation of John
Cheever's short stories, A Paradise It Seems, and Mozart!, a staging of
the composer's letters. There have also been stage versions of fiction
by John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway, and adaptations of Thomas
Wolfe's The Lost Boy, Clyde Edgerton's Where Trouble Sleeps and a
recent look at T.C.Boyle's Tortilla Curtain. Spangler's next project
will be Albatross, an adaptation of Coleridge's poem, The Rime of the
Ancient Mariner.

Spangler's interest in the immigrant's experience was first piqued by
his time in Ireland, where he studied at Trinity College, Dublin, and
has written about it extensively in his soon to be published book,
Staging Intercultural Ireland: New Plays and Practitioner Perspectives.

“That was my first point of contact with immigration,” Spangler
remembers. “It was the 1990s, and that was reflected in the arts
community in Ireland, and the way theatre and the imagination was
galvanised by immigrants and gave it this new energy.”

The ongoing global success of The Kite Runner, first as a book, then a
film and now in Spangler's play, suggests that Hosseini's story has a
far greater reach than speaking solely about the immigrant experience.

“It's a story of redemption,” says Spangler. “Amir is asking for
forgiveness for this terrible thing he did as a child and the
consequences of that act, and that is something I think that speaks to
us all.”

The Kite Runner, King's Theatre, Edinburgh, November 10-15.

The Herald, November 4th 2014


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