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 Connecting professional and amateur theatre in Newbury, West Berkshire and beyond

SLY Theatre - Kes

28th to 29th June 2011.

Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

Setting adds edge to Kes

Fast forward 15 years, when taking a fledgling kestrel would have become illegal

SLY Theatre: Kes, at New Greenham Arts, on Tuesday June 28 and Wednesday June 29

I remember writing a story for the Newbury Weekly News about the launch of Shining Lights Youth (SLY) Theatre back in 1999, so it's great to see the company still going strong, resident at New Greenham Arts, and having seen alumni move on to professional work, such as Alec Hopkins, who played the young Severus Snape in the fifth Harry Potter film.

The aim of SLY is to produce drama that challenges both its members and audiences, and it certainly did so with its latest production, based on the classic novel A Kestrel For A Knave by Barry Hines,

Transposing the story 15 years forward from its source material to the early 1980s brought in extra elements of tension into the action - rudderless juvenile delinquent Billy Casper's taking of the fledging kestrel from its nest would have been a criminal act after the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act, while his future looked even more hopeless with the added knowledge that the steady-but-dull employment lined up for him at the mine would not be a job for life after all.

Keeping the action in Yorkshire was an opportunity for the 10 actors to face the challenge of the regional accent and dialect, which they did so with great dedication. Indeed, the entire performance was an intense experience, as the entire cast were in camera at virtually all times, constantly fluttering the pages of books (possibly copies of A Kestrel For A Knave -I couldn't tell from my seat) and watching Elliot Laker as Billy intensely, their eyes forever following him as he immersed us in the teenager's isolated and misunderstood life.

With the story focused around Billy's relationship with Kes, the young kestrel he tames and trains, another challenge for the company was representing the raptor, which they did with feathered set dressings and lighting which stained the feathers with a flash of red when Billy discovered Kes' body.

The ensemble cast each took on several roles, creating excellent character pen portraits in their walks and mannerisms, such as Anna Roberts' prim librarian, Natalie Poernig as both Billy's careworn mother and caring teacher Miss Farthing, and Conor Holt as Jud, the jack-the-lad older brother whose immature reaction to a perceived slighting resulted in the destruction of both the bird and Billy's hope.

All involved in SLY can be proud of this stylish, affecting and powerful production, which retained both the bleakness and dark humour of the source text.