Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Kes - Darlington Civic Theatre

Kes by:Barry Hines
Adaptor: Lawrence Till
Director: Nikolai Foster
Reviewer: Ian Cain

Based on the book ‘A Kestrel For A Knave’ by Barry Hines, Lawrence Till has produced an adaptation of ‘Kes’ which marks 40 years since the acclaimed novel became a classic of the British cinema.

Billy Casper is a fourteen-year-old boy living an angst-ridden existence. His father disappeared when he was six and his mother is always going out, leaving him to fend for himself. He has been in trouble with the police over petty crime and his performance at school is substandard. Jud, his bullying older brother works in the local coalmine and Billy, being all but illiterate, is expected to follow the same career path.

Desperate to find a point to his lonely life, Billy’s outlook is changed dramatically one day. Upon discovering a Kestrel’s nest, he decides to steal a chick and subsequently teaches himself how to raise and train it with the aid of a library book. Through Kes, Billy discovers a real passion that provides an opportunity to retreat into a world of his own – a world which is less brutal and uncompromising than the harsh reality of his day to day monotony.

Stefan Butler’s performance as Billy is deeply affecting. His performance is pitched perfectly and he effortlessly convinces the audience that he is an adolescent schoolboy. The physical aspect of this is greatly enhanced by his slight build and boyish good looks. Butler doesn’t waste one word or mannerism in his depiction of Billy and every nuance is honed carefully and beautifully.

Oliver Farnworth puts in a sterling performance as the brutish, bullying Jud. His physical and verbal abuse of Billy is played so realistically and honestly that, at times, the scenes are disturbing to watch. Conversely, the scenes between Billy and his English teacher, Mr Farthing, are tender and poignant without being slushy or overly sentimental and this is due, largely, to Daniel Casey’s skilful portrayal of Farthing. Katherine Dow Blyton, as the slatternly and neglectful Mrs Casper, also contributes a worthy performance. There are strong supporting performances, too, from a cast that also includes Mike Burnside, David Crellin, Dominic Gately, Sue Vincent and Peter McGovern.

An interesting concept comes in the form of a series of choreographed ballet routines, performed with finesse by Oliver Watton, that punctuate the story. Although the artistic intentions of these are not made totally clear to the audience, my own interpretation is that they act as a metaphor of the kestrel – which doesn’t physically appear on stage until the penultimate scene – and of the sense of freedom and liberation that Billy experiences because of his relationship with it.

The creative team are as much responsible for the success of this production as the actors. Matthew Wright’s set represents the grim, brooding and foreboding Yorkshire Moors and their leaden, cragginess perfectly illustrates the harshness of life in a Northern industrialised town. The effect is emphasised by Guy Hoare’s atmospheric lighting design, and Nikolai Foster’s direction is paced with precision.

This production of ‘Kes’ is flawless and comes highly recommended.

Photos: Robert Day
Runs until Saturday 24 October 2009.
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