Saturday, 26 January 2019

REVIEW: Kes - The Playhouse, Leeds.

Leeds Playhouse are excelling themselves with their current ‘pop-up’ season of productions, being staged with an ensemble cast in a large and impressively adapted former storage space while their main theatre is being refurbished. Jim Cartwright’s 'Road', David Greig’s 'Europe' and most recently Dickens’ 'A Christmas Carol' have all attracted considerable critical acclaim under Artistic Director James Brining’s expert stewardship.

Barry Hines’s much-loved coming of age tale 'A Kestrel For A Knave' is now fifty years old, and Ken Loach’s iconic film adaptation Kes also celebrates its golden anniversary this year. Robert Alan Evans’s theatrical adaptation for Leeds Playhouse - a remount of their successful 2016 production - slots neatly and fittingly into the pop-up programme, and this sell-out opening night proves the continuing popularity of the piece.

A one-act two-hander, running at just seventy minutes, it’s an easier watch than the movie and one which belies the grim realities and perhaps unresolved narrative of both book and film. Beginning in flashback, we see a troubled Billy Casper in later life, perhaps a nod to Hines’s own suffering with Alzheimer’s, before the familiar narrative kicks in.

National Youth Theatre member Lucas Button is excellent as working class kid Billy, the teenage protagonist of the piece, confronting adult authority in all its forms, and seeking escape through his beloved kestrel chick. Jack Lord plays all those authority figures with actorly aplomb, swiftly moving from brother to mother to shopkeeper to teacher in the blink of an eye and a barely noticeable shift of voice and posture, his comic portrayal of Billy’s mother providing one of the piece’s lighter moments.
The love-hate relationship between Billy and his elder brother Jud, central to the story, is played out delicately but with identifiable menace, such that when the denouement comes, although unseen, it is nevertheless shocking.

Director Amy Leach uses the full scope of the unusually wide stage of the temporary theatre. This combined with Max Johns’s set, a high wall of seemingly random chairs, school gym benches, desks and scaffold, allowed the two actors to express a sense of space, a journey travelled and heights scaled, often literally. Scenes where Billy swung his falconer’s lure while training the kestrel were played out balletically, with suitable use of music and sound throughout.

Kes runs to 16 February, following which there are a number of ensemble productions to be staged in the pop up space before the newly refurbished Playhouse reopens in the autumn, including Tessa Parr as Hamlet throughout March which, if the standard of this season is maintained, are not be missed at any cost.

Reviewer - Ian Taylor
on - 25/1/19

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