Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Kes - Liverpool Playhouse

Based on the book ‘A Kestrel for a Knave’ by Barry Hines
Adaptor: Lawrence Till
Director: Nikolai Foster
Reviewer: John Roberts

Set in the bleak hills of Yorkshire, upon a backdrop of poverty and localised Isolation you are never going to expect a light hearted romp through the highs and lows of family life, based on the book A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines which was first published in 1968 and later immortalised in film by legendary director Ken Loach just a year later.

Billy Casper is a local boy with nothing special going for him, he’s been in trouble with the police, not very popular at school and his family life if rife with trouble, but one thing really sets him free and that is his passion and love for the Hawk he has trained every day.

Director Nikolai Foster along with set designer Matthew Wright have created a very cold and stark atmosphere with the industrialised set pieces and bleak brown and dark green hilled backdrop, lit with brilliance by Guy Hoare and underscored by original music by David Shrubsole makes the creative sides one of the strongest elements of this co-production between the Liverpool Playhouse and the Touring Consortium.

Stefan Butler is stunning as the downtrodden and emotionally charged central character of Billy, and never at any stage of the production do we feel we are watching anyone older than a 14 year old (something that in the wrong hands could go disastrously wrong) which is testament to his dexterity and maturity as a performer. Daniel Casey who is fast becoming a North West favourite gives a charming and sympathetic portrayal of Mr Farthing the teacher that see’s hope in young Billy’s dreams. Mike Burnside and David Crellin also provide excellent performances throughout.

Foster’s direction is a little unbalanced throughout and at times I got increasingly annoyed at the amount of back to the audience and profile acting on show in some of the vital scenes whislt at others left in awe at the simplicity in detail. One can’t help feel that although immensely beautiful the choreographic dance moments which were performed with flair and passion by Oliver Watton, were slightly superfluous given that there were intrinsic moments of the play not to the standard one would hope.

There are certain areas one would hope would be pitch perfect, the first is Accents, across the board these are strong and believable, but Oliver Farnworth’s (Billy’s older brother Jud) is unforgivable wondering from Welsh to Jamaican via several other stops on the way. Kes is a vital ingredient to the production, as an audience we need to believe that Kes is real and flying around the auditorium and you never quite feel that this is the case in this production, which means the climax of the better and more pacey second act is left slightly wilted and underwhelming.

Apart from the obvious downsides to this production, it still has lots of elements that charm, and the use of local school children in the production and not stage school children should be applauded, an enjoyable evening but one that needs another couple of days in rehearsals/dialect lessons to tighten the weaker areas could make all the difference.

Photos: Robert Day
Runs until Sat 10th October
frontpage hit counter