Kes: A powerful Yorkshire story that remains relevant today

Sally Carman as Mrs Casper and Jacob James Beswick as Billy. Picture: James Mulkeen
Sally Carman as Mrs Casper and Jacob James Beswick as Billy. Picture: James Mulkeen
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A new adaptation of Kes is opening at Cast in Doncaster next week and coincides with the venue’s first anniversary. Nick Ahad reports.

That most Yorkshire of stories, Kes, is being brought to life once again.

Earlier this year the story became a moving and surprisingly eloquent dance piece. Now it’s being turned into a new piece of theatre in Doncaster, featuring a community cast of dozens alongside a core professional cast. “It’s a sad indictment that this story is still so relevant. There are still so many Billys out there. It’s why it’s important for us to tell this story again and to keep on telling it,” says Kully Thiarai, artistic director of Cast and the woman who is bringing Kes back to life again for a new audience.

Cast, which celebrates its first birthday on the opening night of Kes a week today, is the success story that has triumphed in the face of some significant adversity in its first 12 months.

Controversial from the moment it was announced, the £22m new venue in the heart of beleaguered Doncaster was not a hit with local people.

“We faced resistance and antipathy even before we opened the doors,” admits Thiarai. “Yet the fact that we have had over 71,000 come through the doors since we opened is a real testament to the passion we have inside the building and from people who have visited us.”

Kes is the latest way that the wider community of the town has been brought into the building and made to care.

The new version of the play, based on Barry Hines’ book A Kestrel For a Knave, has been adapted by Thiarai and Philip Osment. The professional cast of six are joined on stage by 36 community cast members.

Taking the role of Billy’s feckless and ultimately damaged mother is Sally Carman. Best known for her role as Kelly-Marie in Shameless, Carman is a Doncaster lass. “It’s lovely being able to stay with my mum and dad, but I have put on what feels like four stone with all the home-cooked meals,” she says. “It’s really important to me to be here at this venue, doing this show. I was here at the opening to see The Glee Club last year and it felt really important to me and to my home town. At the time I said it felt like it was a miracle it was here at all.

“I really hoped I would get the chance to work here and when this came up I was so happy. It’s the best thing that’s happened to Doncaster for a long time.”

So they have the venue and they have the fans of the venue, now the people in charge just need to keep putting good work in it. With Kes, they feel like they are on to a winner. Thiarai says: “It’s such a powerful story about fulfilling your potential. Billy was trying to fulfil his potential in 1968 and it feels like there are lots of Billys trying to fulfil theirs in 2014.

“For me it’s not just about an individual, it’s about this whole town. The community cast we have in this show are a real representation of that. We have proved in the past year that if you create the right circumstances, with creativity, it’s possible for a whole community to fulfil its greatest potential. It’s a story now that is as potent as it ever was.”

The story, created by Hines and loved for generations, is one of the most powerful metaphors created in modern British literature. Billy Caspar nurses a kestrel and watches it grow strong and swoop free, something he might never be able to do, tied as he is to the circumstances of a run-down estate in a mining village.

Thiarai says: “Kes is a local story and the perfect thing to mark our first birthday. Kes fits the bill for us because it’s a big story full of heart.”