Theatre reviews: Home Sweet Home, Pygmalion and Kes

Home Sweet Home at the Ukrainian Club in Bradford.

Home Sweet Home at the Ukrainian Club in Bradford.

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Home Sweet Home, The Ukrainian Centre, Bradford. By Nick Ahad ****

Emma Adams has always been one of our more interesting, boundary-pushing playwrights.

With her latest piece, she becomes, palpably, one of Yorkshire’s most politically engaged writers. An episodic, multi-strand story, Home Sweet Home suffers from some of the same weaknesses as Adams’ Ugly – it looks, as that did, like a film attempting to escape the bounds of theatre conventions – but you can never be less than impressed with the ambition and scale of what she is attempting. Produced by Freedom Studios, the performance takes place in Bradford’s Ukrainian Centre. Inside what used to be called an “Old Folks’ Home” new arrival Rosa is being shown around. She brings some very old-fashioned prejudices to her first meeting with Moses, a man born in the Caribbean and living out his last days in England, enjoying mischief where he can find it. Judy Norman and Kevin Golding, as the mischievous couple, deserve their own play. It is their journey that takes us through the play, although we meet a young care worker and his memories of his typical Asian grandmother in an hilarious, scene-stealing turn from Balvinder Sopal, along the way. Adams has no respect for the conventions of theatre – in the very best way possible. There is a bubbling undercurrent of anger at injustice in her writing that makes her more compelling with every new piece of work.

• To April 5.

Kes, Crucible, Sheffield. By Nick Ahad ****

Jonathan Watkins is the talented and highly regarded young choreographer who was winning choreography competitions while still a teenager training at the Royal Ballet School. He has pulled off what has to be one of the bravest projects someone could attempt.

Watkins has taken a story rooted in Yorkshire soil and turned it into a leaping, soaring work of dance. It takes some nerve to do that. He has looked this extraordinary challenge in the eye and faced it down. Kes was the name of the film based on the book A Kestrel for a Knave written by Barnsley native Barry Hines.

The book and the film were both instant classics, mining the truth about working class life in the North of England in the late 1960s. They also spoke eloquently of the importance of hope when it comes to survival. Hines also knew that survival without hope is just existence and that’s what many thought the working class of the North were doing – existing; little better than animals. Hines showed the humanity in all humans with his wonderful story. Watkins has done the same with his dance work inspired by Kes.

Young Billy Casper, played with a youthful vigour by Chester Hayes, captures the exuberant joy the young Barnsley lad experiences when his hopes take flight in the shape of the kestrel he trains. The mundane and dirty life that surrounds him is achingly captured by Laura Caldow, playing Billy’s mother, in whose eyes you see a desperation to escape her situation – with not a clue how to do so. A beautiful and heart-breaking piece of work.

• To April 5.

Pygmalion, Grand Theatre, Leeds. By Chris Bond ****

PYGMALION is one of those plays that feels like it’s been around forever (it was actually written in 1912) and has had more makeovers than your average reality TV star.

Perhaps best known of these is the broadway musical My Fair Lady which was turned into a film in 1964 starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison. George Bernard Shaw’s satirical play is based around a phonetics professor called Henry Higgins who makes a bet that he can train a bedraggled cockney flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, to pass for a duchess at a garden party at Buckingham Palace.

Anyone who has watched the film version knows how grating a dodgy cockney accent can be but thankfully Rachel Barry, who plays Eliza in this latest production, makes a far better fist of it than Hepburn.

With a play like this the performances have to be pitch perfect, quite literally, and Barry and co manage this with aplomb. Alistair McGowan is best known for his brilliant impressions but as Professor Higgins he shows he can act a bit too. He leads an impressive cast that includes Rula Lenska as Mrs Higgins and Jamie Foremam as Alfred Doolittle.

Shaw’s play, which first hit the stage just a few months before the start of the First World War, could easily have got lost in the aftermath of that dreadful conflict. It survived, and still does, because it’s witty and has something to say that’s worth hearing.

• To April 5.

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