Romance and realism combine in this classic of northern England
Billy Casper shares much more than just a Christian name with stage and screen’s favourite pirouetting Geordie rapscallion: there’s the grim northern hometown, the cruel elder brother with a job down the mines, and the unusual passion with the potential to lift him out of his presumed and predetermined railroad to nowhere.
But, while at the end of Billy Elliot the hero triumphantly leaps onto a London stage in the guise of preening principal swan, Kes (and its parent novel, Barry Hines’ A Kestrel for a Knave) is from an altogether grittier school of gritty social realism: we leave Billy Casper in almost as forlorn and desperate a state as we found him, his future as uncertain as ever.
For Lawrence Till, whose 1991 stage adaptation of the novel comes to the King’s Theatre this month, the parallels to a much more contemporary set of characters are clear: as director and producer of Channel 4’s Shameless, Till tells stories of the modern-day disenfranchised, which – albeit with a heavier dose of humour – mirror that of Kes with their brief glimmers of hope in a world where the morality of the characters is frequently compromised by the bare need resulting from the deprivation and injustice they face.
In a move perhaps comparable with the transcendence hinted at by Shameless’s surreal poetic interludes, this production uses dance and movement to highlight those moments where it could go either way: the moments when Billy faces a decision, or in the rare seconds of sheer delight – all of which Till terms the ‘tilting points’, when that train to nowhere threatens to come off the tracks.
King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, Tue 27–Sat 31 Oct