Ke’s theater review | The week Great Britain

Any stage adaptation of Barry Hines’ 1968 novel A kestrel for a boy faces significant challenges, Chris Bartlett said in The stage. It’s not just the 1969 film adaptation of Ken Loach, Kes, is “seasoned in the memories of a generation of moviegoers” so expectations for what is “the most iconic of all British coming-of-age stories” will always be sky-high. It’s also that the story hinges on the intense bond between a 15-year-old boy and a live kestrel.

However, Atri Banerjee’s visually compelling and “correctly executed” staging solves this problem by never actually showing us the eponymous bird. Kes is talked about in evocative passages where young Billy explains how he found and trained the kestrel; His movements are now represented on stage by Nishla Smith, whose hauntingly beautiful singing voice – on versions of 1960s standards such as The Girl from Ipanema – also expresses the hopes and desires of the characters.

Featuring just three actors on a simple set, the lively hour-long production is more of a “poetic incantation” by Kes than a “slavish” adaptation, Mark Fisher said in The guard. We get all the famous scenes of sadistic teachers and bogus bets, but not always in the order we expect. And if we don’t fully understand the “full force of Billy’s innocent appreciation of the bird,” we’re certainly moved by Kes/Smith’s absence at the climax of what is a “bold and adventurous ensemble production.”

The actors are top notch and their accents are right “Barnsley authentic,” Neal Keeling said in the film Manchester evening news. Jake Dunn brings “energy and fragility” to the role of angry, abused, neglected Billy – while also conveying his “wide-eyed fear and wonder” as he realizes, thanks to Kes, that escape from a “dirty gray life is possible”. In a tour de force performance, Harry Egan plays multiple roles including Billy’s rowdy brother and sadistic gym teacher Mr Sugden (played by Brian Glover in the film). And Smith’s “haunting, ethereal” interludes bring hope to the grim reality of Billy’s life. It’s a dark game, but brilliant.

Octagon TheaterBolton until April 2nd, then Theater by the Lake, Keswick, April 6th-30th. April Ke’s theater review | The week Great Britain

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