Reviewed by Seamus Kelly
Kes, a new theatrical production by the Octagon Theatre and Theatre by the Lake is running in Bolton until Saturday 2nd April. Adapted by Robert Alan Evans and directed by Atri Banerjee; Kes tells the story of 15-year-old Billy Casper in a 1960s mining town in Yorkshire.
This is a thoroughly modern production and the three actors, Jake Dunn (making his professional debut) as Billy, Harry Egan and Nishla Smith delivered excellent and powerful performances. With just the three actors and a simple set an array of characters is brought to life by very effective use of voice, accents, physical presence, movements, dance and haunting singing from Nishla Smith.
The story was first published in the book “A Kestrel for a Knave”, by Barry Hines was first published in 1968 and adapted for cinema in 1969 film “Kes”, by Ken Loach.
Billy is neglected and bullied and constantly told that he is useless and his only future is to go down the pit. For a while he finds freedom, escape and something to be passionate about through Kes, a Kestrel that he finds, cares for and trains.
The town itself with its bookies, chip shop, school and the overarching presence of the coal mine is created in our imaginations as are the fields and woods where Billy finds and trains his kestrel. For me personally it brought back memories of a school friend, from a mining town in Nottinghamshire, in the early 1970s who also kept and trained a kestrel, and would bring the lures, hoods and jesses, that he carefully crafted at home, to show to his friends – that was his escape too.
Highlights of the performance for me included Egan as Billy’s stressed mum, and as various teachers from Billy’s school. Almost everyone in the auditorium would have memories of such characters from their own time at school.
The play has moments that bring back memories, occasional laughs, sadness and a poignant message that is a s relevant now as it was 54 years ago.
The audience were totally engaged with Billy’s struggles and dreams; this is what good theatre does best; the actors engage with the audience who experience the emotions, create images and places in their own minds and live the experience as if they ‘were there’.
This is an excellent production that I’d highly recommend.
Jason Manford, who attended this performance described it as “Very brave, contemporary take on a heartbreaking story. Wonderfully acted, directed & the music really helped it fly” and I couldn’t agree more.