Leeds Playhouse – until Saturday 16th February 2019
Reviewed By Dawn Smallwood
Barry Hines’ Kes returns to the Leeds Playhouse and marks 2019, an exciting year for the theatre amid the anticipated return to the main building later on in the year after the extensive renovation. Kes makes a return visit after its 2016 run and it is 50 years this year that Ken Loach’s popular film was released. The film and its adaptation has had a massive impact on many people since then.
Kes tells the story about Billy Casper, a teenager from a working-class background in Yorkshire, who rears a kestrel and this is viewed an escapism from the harsh and adverse reality of inequality and hopelessness as far as society and opportunities are concerned.
Robert Alan Evans adapts this production on stage and Max Johns’ staging is cleverly arranged with furniture of chairs, household appliances and buildings’ objects as a background. The stage isn’t cluttered whatsoever and this enables maximum focus and attention on the performance.
Under the direction of Martin Leonard, this production is a two cast performance with Billy (Lucas Button) and the man (Jack Lord) who plays the multiple characters and also acts as a mediator and narrator for Billy. It appears odd at the beginning why there aren’t more actors playing the story’s characters. It is a bold move for this story to be narrated in a simplest and direct way as possible and this certainly aligns the spirit of Hines’ honest writing style and personality. It proves that adaptations aren’t limited just to recreating to what has previously been created.
Button and Lord both give a thorough, emotive and powerful performance and one could feel for Billy and his unfortunate environment he lives in and that he finds hope and solace in a kestrel he loved and cared for. Kes is only a short production of just over an hour but it is packed with content and emotions and none of Hines’ text is abridged and compromised whatsoever. It is certainly a production to go and see, be moved, and be aware of what social inequalities many people face and how many yearn for a better future through imagination and creativity.