David Benedict on theatre

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The Independent Culture
Think black and white. Think Lancashire. Think plangent theme tune and Hayley Mills.

"What are you going to call it?"


"You can't call a cat Spider."

"It's my cat. I'll call it what I like."

There you have it. Authentic dialogue from Whistle Down the Wind, a true British great. Alan Bates played a fugitive and Bryan Forbes made a film without Nanette Newman. Years later, Richard Taylor turned it into a musical for the National Youth Music theatre, whose sponsor, Andrew Lloyd Webber, was moved to say "this is a perfect example of the kind of new musical I want to encourage composers and writers to create".

Back in Lancashire, another musical derived from a Northern classic is about to open. Happily, we're not about to see Try! a musicalised version of This Sporting Life. Instead, Lawrence Till has adapted Barry Hines's novel, A Kestrel for a Knave, better known as Ken Loach's debut film, Kes (below left).

Predictably, everyone wants to know how he is going to do the bird. "The bird is sung by a soprano, but we don't see her. It's not about a bird, it's about education. There are lots of Billy Caspars, people who are denied so much both at home and at school. He knows how to deal with bullies and his home life but knows nothing of the outside world." This is hardly the escapist world of Crazy for You but Till points to shows like Cabaret or Kiss of the Spiderwoman as successful musicals built around ideas like the rise of fascism. "Even the most bleak stories can have rousing, rich musical numbers."

The score is the first musical by Terry Davies. Some of it derives from unwritten music he wrote for the National's premiere of The Rise and Fall of Little Voice where the central character suddenly rose up and found her own voice. A flight of fantasy, perhaps?

`Kes' is at the Bolton Octagon to 14 Oct (01204 520661)