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Kes, Sheffield Crucible, theatre review

This unique production hits every note near-perfectly

The gritty story of life on a 1960s housing estate in the South Yorkshire coalfield is among the more unlikely subjects to be turned into a balletic, dance-theatre production.

Kes was Ken Loach’s second film – with a screenplay written by Barry Hines author of A Kestrel for a Knave on which is was based. Viewed today it remains a masterclass in social commentary for an age on the brink of being lost in the industrial showdowns of the following decades.

What is so extraordinary about Barnsley-born choreographer and director Jonathan Watkins’s witty and moving adaptation is the grace and beauty which he imparts into such bleak circumstances – an everyday life faithfully and unromantically imagined but one where the human spirit still battles to soar free.

True some of the rough, thieving edges are knocked off Billy Casper but it is impossible not to feel deeply for the lad who is unhappy at home, a prisoner at school and for whom the sports field offers just another form of mud-soaked adult tyranny.

That is until he finds, or more accurately takes from a nest, a fledgling kestrel that he trains and nurtures.  Boy and bird enjoy a profoundly touching relationship – the tamed raptor offering liberation from the monotony of the classroom and the inevitability of pit life.

It is a respite all too brief, however, when Billy falls foul of his bullying older brother who is already toiling in the colliery. Their relationship – the clash between manhood and boyishness – both tender and violent, is heartbreakingly depicted. 

This unique production hits every note near-perfectly, bringing together an insistent and compelling new musical score, ravishing movement, puppetry and top notch performances to create a really special and fast-moving experience – even for those who turned up expecting a more traditional telling of this classic tale.

To 5 April