Kite flying festival 'aerial act of solidarity' with Afghanistan

A free kite flying festival takes place at Parliament Hill on August 20 organised by Good Chance Theatre and Afghan Artists

A free kite flying festival takes place at Parliament Hill on August 20 organised by Good Chance Theatre and Afghan Artists to highlight the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan - Credit: Supplied

The ancient Afghan tradition of kite-flying has been celebrated on page, stage and screen in Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner.

Now the theatre company behind The Jungle and The Walk with Amal are holding a free kite-flying festival on Parliament Hill as an "aerial act of solidarity" with the people of Afghanistan.

A collaboration between Good Chance theatre and Afghan Artists, Fly With Me takes place in 15 cities including Calais, Birmingham, Manchester, and Bradford to mark a year since the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban.

Participants on August 20 will learn to build and fly a kite while hearing the story of two brothers. Afghan music and poetry will be woven into the event - all of which were banned by the Taliban during their last occupation of the country.

Fly With Me features kite flying, storytelling, dance and poetry in cities across Europe and the UK

Fly With Me features kite flying, storytelling, dance and poetry in cities across Europe and the UK - Credit: Supplied

The festival is directed by Wembley-based actor Elham Ehsas, who played young Assef in the 2007 film The Kite Runner, and appeared in Good Chance Theatre's The Jungle. He hopes by celebrating Afghan culture through the simple, joyful act of kite-flying, participants will hear the message "don’t forget Afghanistan."

"We devised Fly With Me as an opportunity to show the world that Afghanistan should be remembered, especially Afghan women and girls who haven't been able to go to school since May," he said. "With the news cycle and hunt for the next hot thing, it feels they have been brushed under the rug, but it doesn't mean the issue disappears. What the Taliban are doing is a complete contravention of human rights."

The Afghan craft of kite flying was immortalised in Booker prizewinner The Kite Runner

The Afghan craft of kite flying was immortalised in Booker prizewinner The Kite Runner but the activity was banned by The Taliban - Credit: Supplied

Ehsas and his family moved from Kabul to Golders Green when he was 10.

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"I went to Wessex Gardens primary and had no English, all I knew was 'yes', 'no' and 'Coca Cola'"

Aged 15 he tagged along with his brother to an open casting for The Kite Runner: "I hadn't thought about acting but wanted to see how it worked. Three and a half months later I found myself in China shooting this amazing blockbuster of a movie, enjoying every second."

He returned to school, studied law at University, and became a paralegal, but then came another casting call: "I found myself in Abu Dhabi shooting something with Brad Pitt and thought maybe I should do this for a living!"

He has since enjoyed major roles in Homeland, Young Wallander and forthcoming Apple TV thriller Shantaram, but says his kite flying skills pale next to his Fly With Me colleagues: "I had dabbled in Kabul, we used to live next to a hill famous for its kite flying," he says.

Elham Ehsas appeared in The Young Vic and Good Chance Theatre's The Jungle

Elham Ehsas appeared in The Young Vic and Good Chance Theatre's The Jungle - Credit: David Sandison

"It's got a special place in Afghan life and has been a tradition for more than 800 years. Go to Kabul, and the skies are decorated with pigeons and kites. On Friday and Saturday evenings you would see people picnicking and the kids flying kites  - I guess a lot of entertainment back in the day came from learning to play with what you had, wooden skewers, plastic bags, and a bit of string."

He hopes north Londoners will get a flavour of the tradition: "We did a recce two weeks ago and it's got a lovely vibe. A lot of the great movements happen through entertainment and the community getting together, and I hope people will learn about Afghan culture and tradition as a background music to these workshops."

Sadly, it will be some time before he sees kites flying in Kabul: "I've been lucky to go back since I left, but now it's not possible. It feels I am losing my home for a second time."

Fly With Me runs 12-4pm on August 20 on Parliament Hill Hampstead Heath. https://www.goodchance.org.uk/flywithme