BWW Reviews: KES, Crucible, Sheffield, 31 March 2014
A dance production is a rare sight on the Crucible main stage, but then Jonathan Watkins' dance theatre adaptation of Kes is a rare treat.
The Barnsley-set novel A Kestrel for a Knave, on which the play, film and dance productions of Kes are all based, is a South Yorkshire classic, so it's fitting that this production is one of the key events of the 2014 Yorkshire Festival. The story is of Billy, alienated at school and home, who finds he has a gift for something as he builds a relationship with a kestrel and learns to get it to fly to and from his hands.
Jonathan Watkins' adaptation takes the story and turns it into dance, with the performers' freedom and captivity, the times their characters rise and fall, a lovely echo of the flight of the birds. It is accompanied by a delightful score from Alex Baranowski that sets the mood of each scene very effectively. With simple, but cleverly designed, props and staging we move easily between home, pub, school playground, classroom, racing track and other locations as we see Billy, his family and friends struggling in different contexts, constrained by rules and rituals, much as Kes struggles when caged - it is only when their relationship develops that they are allowed the free run of the stage.
Billy is played with real heart by Chester Hayes, who is not only a talented dancer, but an expressive actor - indeed all the performances are strong, including the group of local young dancers who play Billy's classmates. The only slight weakness in telling the story through dance is that the family dynamic of Billy, his brother and his parents is a little unclear, particularly given that the brother and father appear similar in age, and the brother is clearly a dominant patriarchal force in Billy's life. Perhaps this could have been addressed through costume or make-up to distinguish the roles more clearly.
Overall, however, this is a sensitive and moving adaptation that reduced many in the audience to tears and deserves to be seen while you have the chance!
Kes is at the Crucible, Sheffield, until April 5th.