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Kes review at West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds – ‘poetry and power’

Dan Parr and Jack Lord in Kes at West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds. Dan Parr and Jack Lord in Kes at West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds.
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There are many daring things about Robert Alan Evans and Amy Leach’s adaptation of Barry Hines’ iconic novel, Kes, not least the fact that the titular kestrel makes no appearance whatsoever. There’s no puppetry here, or even the risky option of a real-life bird – instead, the audience are called upon to use the power of imagination.

Evans has also pared things down, using a cast of just two actors, with Dan Parr playing Billy Casper while Jack Lord takes on a whole variety of roles.

Despite this, it isn’t an austere production – Max Johns’ impressive set dominates the stage, looking like a junkyard with furniture scattered around the scaffolding and an enormous wooden ramp. Parr and Lord clamber and scamper all over the set as they tell the emotive tale of a Barnsley boy and his bird. The pace and the energy of their performances never lets up. It’s almost dizzying to watch Lord as he switches between Billy’s half-brother, his mother and his sadistic teacher.

It’s the sense of wonder and discovery that Leach is most successful at conveying here. Parr gasps with delight as he twirls a rope with a lure around to the strains of Tom Mills’ beautiful score. The choreography from Lucy Cullingford is athletic and breathless, the two actors clambering up the ramp to take a look at the world around them.

At just 70 minutes, the storytelling has been stripped down but the poetry and power remain.

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Energetic, pared-down version of Barry Hines’ classic novel