WHy go to the West End when the best of theatre can be found right here in South Yorkshire’s smaller venues?
I was stunned by the quality of ‘Kes’, staged last week for the second time by LS Theatre Productions at the Academy Theatre, Birdwell.
Raw, authentic performance from a largely new cast of Barnsley talent made for a spellbinding show, tense with emotion but relieved by many subtle (and not so subtle) splashes of humour.
Lewis Jones as Billy Caspar is amazing in the iconic role.
With maturity far beyond his 13 years, he portrays the beleagured youngster, pouring love on his pet kestrel in the moments he snatches between bouts of bullying meted to him by his older brother and both fellow pupils and teachers at school. Genuinely motivated staff are outnumbered by supercilious bullies, who have little time for the likes of Billy.
Billy Caspar’s community is failing its young. Effective acting conveys this stark message at every turn.
Swift, simple and clever set changes work well. And brilliant characterisations make each bit part memorable.
Lewis’ performance is such that even cast members, on their fourth performance of a seven show week when I attended, were still tearful at the climax.
The intimacy of the Birdwell theatre envelopes the audience. We never see Kes the hawk on the stage but we really don’t need to. Kes is symbolic, and Billy’s sense of loss when the bird dies at the hands of his brother Judd, excellently portrayed by Richard Wood, is heart-wrenching.
Bev Jacques took the role of Mrs Caspar at two weeks’ notice. As a relative newcomer to the stage, the police fingerprints officer has uncovered a talent and enjoyment in acting that is tangible.
Producer director Lee Semley nurtures his carefully selected cast and promises more theatrical delights this year, including the celebrated ‘Calendar Girls’ in September. Go and see them soon. SB