DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

Kes – Leeds Playhouse

Writer: Barry Hines. Adapted for the stage by Robert Alan Edwards

Director: Martin Leonard

Reviewer: Sue Collier

This 70-minute, one-act play is an adaptation of the powerful 1968 Barry Hines novel A Kestrel for a Knave. The story of 15-year-old Billy Casper is set in South Yorkshire. Billy’s life is lonely and bleak. He lives with his mother and adult brother Jud, a threatening bully who shares the helpless Billy’s bed. Billy’s physical and emotional needs are unmet and he is left to care for himself. At school, Billy also experiences bullying, beatings, and humiliation from his teachers. He has little control over his own life. He is the victim of being judged by others as being representative of his mother’s lifestyle. There are no expectations of him other than that he will go down the pit when he leaves school.

Life changes for Billy when he takes a young kestrel chick from a nest. He studies how to care for and train the bird. He has something fulfilling in his life at last. He even receives admiration from one of his teachers for his falconry skills. Then he makes a fatal error and tragedy strikes.

The role of Billy is played by Lucas Button. All other roles are creatively played by Jack Lord. Unfortunately, upon opening the story. it is unclear which role Lord is actually playing and throughout, this has the potential to cause confusion for the viewer.

Button’s portrayal of Billy is very touching, as his clear vulnerability is threatened by all around him. Movement Director Lucy Cullingford, beautifully creates a sensation of an enraptured Billy soaring through the skies, and the joy he feels when flying his bird is strongly emoted by Button. Max Johns is spot on with Billy’s costume design, representing the standard of living in the 1960s, Billy’s neglect, and sadly still, the state of poverty for many struggling families in Britain today.

The pop-up theatre, a temporary structure being used during the redevelopment of Leeds Playhouse, presents a few challenges to the viewing audience. If you are seated to the right side of the stage, there is the potential to miss important visual moments. For example, an armchair positioned central stage is set too far back so that at times during vital pieces of dialogue both the actors’ facial expressions and associated props are not clearly seen. The set is a giant structure of chairs and tables, representing home, school and the neighbouring environs. Disappointingly, as Billy moves in and out of the various scenes, he is not always visible to all the audience, particularly so during the important shower scene.

Runs until 16 February 2019 | Image: Contributed

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Modern tragedy

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