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Khaled Hosseini (The Kite Runner)

September 2014


IT is one of the most-talked-about books of the new century, a harrowing tale of childhood friends, raised in Afghanistan, whose innocence is destined to be torn apart when their divided country begins to move inexorably towards war. Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner became an international bestseller, a hit film and also a stage success, the latest production of which opens a UK tour at Nottingham Playhouse tonight. Hosseini, who now lives in California, where the play was first performed on the stage at his local theatre in San Jose, was born in Kabul and grew up in a middle-class family. By the time he was 11, with war looming, the family fled Afghanistan for Paris, then sought political asylum in the US, where they settled in 1980.Hosseini studied medicine, which he practised for ten years. The Kite Runner, published in 2003, was his first novel.


Were you surprised at the success of The Kite Runner?

The success of the book continues to be an enormous surprise to me. I really worried that it wouldn’t find a readership. Partly because it was so intense and so sad, with a central character that was frankly unlikable for much of the narrative. And all the characters that you love meet their demise in horrible ways. The fact that it continues to be read widely more than ten years after it was published continues to be a surprise to me – it’s the antithesis of what a bestseller should look like.


Have you seen the stage production?

Yes, in my home town of San Jose. I went over the script with Matthew Spangler, a script he’d already written. He asked me to look at it and we tweaked it. And I attended one rehearsal session but that was it for my involvement.

How did you feel it translates to the stage?

I think it translates incredibly well.What I really love about the play is that so much of the book is preserved in it. You have freedoms with stage adaptations that you don’t have with film. One large chunk of the book is the main character’s Amir’s internal monologue, where he judges his own actions and has insights and comments about the people in his life. In the play the lead actor can break from the action, turn to the audience and share his thoughts. In film that can’t be done. That’s not to put down the film at all.

Did you like the film?

I’ve seen it a number of times because I went to different screenings with the actors and the director to introduce it. I like the film quite a lot. It’s sort of a break from the usual way that Hollywood treats that region of the world; political violence and terrorism. This was a simple family story – yes, with a political backdrop but the focus was on the intense human dramas and the themes are universal. 

You left Afghanistan aged 11. How vivid are your memories of your life there?

Surprisingly vivid and rich. I didn’t realise how vivid and rich until I set out to write The Kite Runner and I was suddenly able to mentally teleport myself back to that time and place, in those final few years before war broke out. I was surprised how vividly I remembered Kabul, the geography of it and the sights and sounds of it. And what it was like to be part of an upper-middle-class, somewhat Westernised, family living in Kabul. So the first third of the book I had no difficulty in writing.

How Westernised were your family?

Kabul is very different from the rest of the country. It has always been more modern and progressive and liberal. In the 1970s we had an influx of cultural influence from the West and the Soviet Union. So we had a huge influx of films, theatres opening, jazz clubs, cabaret clubs, books... and my family weren’t were devoutly religious. They enjoyed a cocktail and they liked The Beatles and Elvis. 

So your move to Paris wasn’t such a culture shock?

It would have been a much bigger culture shock if I’d have grown up in a village just outside Kandahar, you might say. But it was still a culture shock. One can’t compare Kabul and Paris. The technology, how convenient life was... all these things I’d only seen in movies. Those first few months I was in perpetual wonder.

When did you first return to Afghanistan?

I left in 1976 and returned 27 years later, the only member of my family to do so. That was in March 2003 and I went with my brother-in-law. We stayed in Kabul for two weeks. We’d been dying to go back and visit the place where we were born and raised. Man, that was a culture shock. I had an image in my head the way I remembered it and then to see how it was after various cycles of conflict... entire neighbourhoods I’d known as a boy completely razed to the ground, every building had bullet holes. It was really overcrowded, so many widows and orphans, a huge presence of guns and weaponry – it took us a few days to adjust to what we were seeing.

Do you still have family and friends there?

Most of my family and friends got out by the mid-1980s. We were one of the earlier ones – we left before any of the wars began. We lost family members and friends, some were injured. Very few stayed behind. I have a cousin who still lives there but she’s the only surviving family member who does. 

How long would it take for Kabul to be the sort of place you’d want to live again?

There are so many hurdles in the path of that happening. The country has enormous challenges to get back to the way it was in the 70s. 

The problems aren’t just security but institutional corruption, warlordism, the presence of militias, the constant intervention of neighbouring countries... it’s hard to put a timescale on it. 

“I guess the biggest question is what will happen when the foreign troops do leave? Whether the country will devolve back into the kind of internal conflict that really tore it apart in the 1990s? 

“That’s one scenario we are all hoping and praying doesn’t happen."


The Kite Runner runs at Nottingham Playhouse until September 6 2014. Tickets are priced from £9.50 to £28.50 from the box office, 0115 941 9419 or nottinghamplayhouse.co.uk. 

Due to adult themes and occasional use of strong language there is a 14 plus age restriction. 



THE STORY
KITE “fighting” is a popular regional pastime in which boys cover their kite strings with broken glass and try to sever the strings of opposing kites. When kites are severed from their strings, boys chase and retrieve them – these are the kite runners.
Amir and Hassan are close friends, even though the former comes from the dominant Pashtun group and the latter, son of the family servant, from the Hazara minority. 
The Kite Runner of the title is Hassan, who recovers the kites of his well-to-do young friend Amir. 
While chasing a kite, Hassan becomes the victim of a gross assault – innocently witnessed by Amir – with consequences for both boys.
After the Soviet invasion Amir and his father emigrate to California. Following his father’s death Amir, now married to Soraya, returns to Afghanistan, where the Taliban has had a brutal impact on Hassan and his family. Can Amir atone for a secret guilt by finding Hassan’s missing child Sohrab? 

THE CAST
THE 2014 UK tour features two new actors Bhavin Bhatt (Wali) and Andrei Costin (Hassan/ Sohrab). The returning cast are: Ben Turner (Amir), David Ahmad (Kamal), Antony Bunsee (General Taheri), Emilio Doorgansingh (Baba), Nicholas Karimi (Assef), Ezra Khan (Ali), Nicholas Khan ( Rahim Khan), Lisa Zahra Jouzakini (Soroya), Hanif Khan (Mohammad Hanif Dewaka).

THE THEATRE
“I AM delighted that following its success in Nottingham and Liverpool that the production will have a longer life. 
“The power and relevance of The Kite Runner doesn’t diminish and I have no doubt that this will prove to be a timeless story. It seems to me that it has another profound connection to Britain; as we move towards a complete troop withdrawal from Afghanistan it is good, and important, to be reminded of the Afghans’ own stories and histories. 
“It is easy to forget that the Afghans are a people with a complex and rich culture, with their own story to tell, and that story won’t stop, or cease to be relevant, when our troops come home.”

Giles Croft, artistic director, Nottingham Playhouse


WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
“A hit 5/5”
The Telegraph
“Mesmerising”
Daily Mail
“Exhilarating”
The Times
“Gripping”
The Guardian




Victoria Gray

July 2014

IT was always meant to be a bit of a giggle; a chance to taste fame, make a few quid and have fun.
But when Bilsthorpe’s Victoria Gray now looks back on the two years with Amore, a classical crossover - or ‘popera’ - group based in London, she knows that her heart lay elsewhere.
“It was great fun, don’t get me wrong,” says the 27-year-old, who now lives in Burton Joyce with her fiance.
“But that showbiz world wasn’t really me. There was a thing I used to call Meerkat syndrome that people used to do at celebrity parties. You’d be talking to them and they’d be constantly bobbing up and down and looking around the room for celebrities.
“I’d couldn’t wait to get back home and get in my onesie,” she adds with a laugh.
Amore were four members of the Royal College of Music, from where Victoria graduated with an MA in Performance, the end of eight years of study.
Her plan was always to be an opera singer but the opportunity for a bit of fun and possible fame came along when they were signed to major record label, Universal.
Highlights over the past two years include performing on a boat on the Thames in front of the Queen as part of her Diamond Jubilee celebrations and singing Abide With Me and the National Anthem at last year’s FA Cup Final between Manchester City and Wigan Athletic, where 82,000 people packed out Wembley Stadium.
Amore also opened shows for Katherine Jenkins and Russell Watson, two of the biggest classical crossover artist in the UK. There has been modelling for GC Watches, that included a starring role in a TV campaign.
“I’m still doing that,” says Victoria.
And various celebrity parties.
“We did a lot with Samuel L Jackson, performing at his events. They were the best parties. He loved classical music and we’d sing before dinner, then join everyone else for the meal. We were on a table with comedian Stephen K Amos at one of them and he was hilarious. And Ron Weasley was on the next table.
“Will Smith was a lovely guy. We did a lot for a charity called WellChild, which is one the Prince Harry’s main charities. We performed at the annual Helping Hands Ball which was star-studded.”
She adds: “I found that the loveliest people were the genuinely talented ones. The reality TV stars were the ones with an ego and attitude.”
All four members of Amore disbanded the group this year to work on solo projects.
“We missed opera and being part of a production,” says Victoria who moved back to Nottinghamshire six months ago with fiance Sam Ogrizovic, the Kimberley Cricket Club captain. The couple will tie the knot in September.
“I haven’t missed London once,” she admits.
Her focus now is to train with the English National Opera, but she needs to raise £2,000 to do so.
“You work with the best directors and conductors; it’s really exciting.
“I was worried that being from the crossover world they wouldn’t take me seriously because they are two very different worlds. All of us in Amore went into it quite naively thinking we could straddle both worlds but it became increasingly impossible when we had a record company who wanted us to sing songs out of our comfort zone.”
She means mainstream songs given the opera treatment.
She will be doing a few of them as part of her first solo concert tomorrow night, mixed in with more authentic opera songs.
“It’s more nerve-wracking than the FA Cup Final,” she says of the concert at Samworth Church Academy in Mansfield.
“Although there were so many people in Wembley Stadium, you couldn’t see their faces. But singing to people you know, sat right in front of you, is really hard.”
The venue is where Mansfield girls’ choir Cantamus used to rehearse. Victoria joined while still at school and sang with them all over the world.
Another was Lucy Kay, the Notts-raised runner up of this year’s Britain’s Got Talent.
“She’s a lovely girl and she’s done so well,” says Victoria.
“I saw her a couple of weeks ago and we sang together.”
That was at the memorial concert in Mansfield for Cantamus founder Pamela Cook, who died last year.
“I told her that if she needed any advice about the celebrity world then I was there for her. Because it is a shock to the system. It’s not for the faint-hearted. It can be quite brutal.”
She describes the concert as “incredible night.
Says Victoria: “Imagine 400 girls singing Raise Me Up together. It gives me goosebumps thinking about it now.
“Miss Cook was the biggest musical inspiration in my life. I still miss her every day.”
Her long-term ambitions are to sing on all the major opera stages around the world and it’s a journey she’s excited about embarking on once again.
“I want to be part of that buzz again; being part of a production and watching it go from an idea to the stage.
“Amore was amazing. I had two years doing things I never thought I’d do. But now I feel like I’m home and doing the thing I first fell in love with.”

Victoria Gray presents Summer Serenades at Samworth Church Academy in Mansfield tomorrow from 6pm, with guest Natalie Montakhab. Tickets are £12, call 01623 822567 or email maggie.magent@btinternet.com.   

Backstage at Splendour: Saint Raymond

July 2014

AFTER a host of Nottingham artists last year, the sole representative on the Main Stage at this year's Splendour was Saint Raymond, aka Bramcote 19-year-old Callum Burrows, who spoke to us before his set...

Two years ago you made your Splendour debut on the Courtyard Stage, then the second stage last year and now the Main Stage...
Yeah, it’s a bit crazy. It doesn’t seem like five minutes ago that I was playing the Courtyard Stage. It’s flown by. Last year was the first gig with the live band. We had our first rehearsal the night before but it went really great. I’ve been touring with them ever since so it’s nice to come back. I wasn’t signed at that point. I signed a month later.

 Going from stage to stage is following the same trajectory as Jake Bugg, who continues to go from strength to strength...
Yeah, as a Nottingham artist, it’s inspiring seeing a local lad doing so well. Definitely.

Which song tends to get the crowd going?
In Nottingham it’s Bonfires. We do a bit of an outro and have a bit of dance about to that.

You started the first of a string of dates opening for Ed Sheeran this week. How was that?
That was in Vienna and there were 3,000 people. We were blown away by the noise they made. Ed Sheeran is the biggest sweetheart in the world. He took time out to come to the dressing room and hang out. That was a one-off until the tour in October. I’m off to Majorca and Ibiza next week, then the tour with Ed starts in October.