A downbeat but moving coming-of-age story

Kes, The Capitol Studio,

Horsham, Wednesday, March 13, to Saturday, March 16

Kes is Hit & Run Theatre Company’s new production based on ‘A Kestrel for a Knave’ by Barry Hines.

This moving show tells the story of Billy Casper, a 1960s teenager who discovers his passion for falconry, while growing up in a grim northern mining town.

The stage decoration is sparse but effective, as performers move props around in-between scenes in a cleverly co-ordinated way.

The performances are all of a high standard and capture the grim reality of the characters lives well – even with some cast members playing several roles.

The production effectively tugs on our heartstrings as we witness Billy getting pushed around by his family, his boss and his schoolmates.

Calum McDonald is excellent as Billy, giving a realistic and raw performance that keeps a tight hold on the audience’s attention right up to the final, heartbreaking scenes.

The production may be set more than 40 years ago, but Calum’s performance, together with the well written script, shows a real understanding of the teenage mind. It brings the character to life in a way that feels fresh and fascinating.

Terry Foster is also very good as Billy’s English teacher, Mr Farthing. He portrays a man who seems physically tired and frustrated but still passionate about educating his pupils.

He also gives the play it’s warm heart in a scene where Mr Farthing comes to see Billy flying Kes. It’s atmospheric, moving and conveys a shared moment of profound understanding between the two characters.

However, Mr Farthing offers a lone voice among the play’s adult characters, who are largely clueless about what they’re supposed to be doing (teaching or parenting) but seem very interested in asserting their authority over the youngsters.

The Headteacher, Mr Gryce, played by Tim Fifield, claims to know that caning the boys won’t do any good...so he does it anyway.

The PE teacher, Mr Sugden, played by John Barnett, simply uses the teenagers as performers to live out his football fantasies, instead of trying to improve their physical fitness in a funny and painfully true scene.

Actually, Billy’s enthusiasm for falconry becomes more believable and easy to understand because of these performances.

The pointlessness of Billy’s school life helps convey his need to escape reality, whether it’s through comic books (which Billy excitedly reads aloud) or his newfound talent.

It will strike a chord with anyone who’s ever felt like an outsider or simply thought that school was a waste of time.

This production is the last directed piece for Hit & Run for The Capitol’s general manager Michael Gattrell.

It’s a poignant play with a notoriously downbeat ending.

However, the cast and crew offer a production that’s beautifully directed and full of intelligent, sensitive and absorbing performances.