Writer: Barry Hines
Director, Choreographer and Adapter: Jonathan Watkins
Composer: Alex Baranowski
Designer: Ben Stones
Puppetry Designer and Director: Rachael Canning
Reviewer: Ray Taylor
A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines, first published in 1968, and the film Kes directed by Ken Loach in 1969 are both extremely well known and loved by millions. The film in particular is part of cinematic folklore and helped to put Barnsley on the map. The challenge of this new dance-theatre production is how well does the story of schoolboy Billy Casper and his friendship with a wild kestrel hawk transfer to a new medium? One of the charms of both the novel and the film is its use of the Barnsley dialect and local language. Would not a production with no dialogue lose something vital in this particular story?
The answer is that here the story comes alive all over again in a new, vibrant, thrilling, dynamic and moving way. Jonathan Watkins, himself born in Barnsley, must take the prime credit for the successful way he has re-imagined the original work. He says that the major challenge for him was to translate a very dialogue-based story into a non-verbal form. Jonathan, you have succeeded brilliantly. Great credit also goes to designer Ben Stones (also from Barnsley) and to the haunting and evocative music of Alex Baranowski.
The company is made up of eight widely experienced dance professionals complemented by a group of nine local youngsters. These latter are used to great effect in the school scenes. All the principals deserve a mention by name but space allows just a few: Chester Hayes as Billy, Tom Jackson Greaves as Jud and Laura Caldow as their mother depict their working class life, their hopes, dreams and disappointments, their dysfunctionality and their ultimate tragedies with great skill and poignancy. Dom Czapski as Billy’s English teacher who takes an interest in him and to whom Billy relates conveys their relationship very touchingly. Phil Snowden as Mr Sugden the sports teacher brings off the iconic football scene (made famous by Brian Glover in the film) to hilarious effect. And what about the kestrel itself? This is brought alive through puppetry in the manner of “War Horse” and is extremely effectively done to the credit of Rachael Canning.
The set is simple and functional with all the performers regularly moving parts around to allow the company to make full use of a large working space. Every inch of the Crucible stage is played to its advantage while above is seen an open sky and the juxtaposition of the urban and rural landscape that is at the heart of the original vision.
One of the many great things about this production is that it depicts a local story, created by locally born artists, and forms part of the Yorkshire Festival, a 100 day celebration of world-class arts in the region. Both Sheffield and Barnsley theatre goers can be very proud of the results of this collaboration.
Runs until:Saturday 5 April 2014