The central character to the story, Billy, finds a kestrel chick and teaches himself how to raise and train it with the aid of a library book. He discovers a real passion which gives him an escape from the mundane reality of the rest of his life, and he finds that he is not as useless as his teachers and family keep telling him he is. Hines’ story has been used in school curriculums across the country and touches on many topics including bullying. His book was also made into an award-winning film in 1969 which was directed by Ken Loach and celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.
Kes begins a national tour at the Liverpool Playhouse before visiting Nottingham, Darlington, Edinburgh, Oxford, Bradford, Wolverhampton, and Cardiff.
When did you decide to go into acting and how did you go about it?
I first got into acting when I saw my older brother in a school production. I was eight and wanted to be exactly like him. The following year I was old enough to audition for Durrington Middle School’s summer musical. It was Bugsy Malone and I played Captain O’Dreary. I got spotted and asked to audition for Hancock, a television film. I didn’t get the job. I knew I wanted to go to drama school after A-levels, but whilst studying I performed in Creation with the National Youth Music Theatre and Watership Down at Regents Park as well as being involved on school productions.
When did you first come across Barry Hines’ novel Kestrel For A Knave?
I first saw the film of Kes years ago and then went on to read the book. We didn’t study Kestrel for A Knave at school, but I wish we had.
What is it about Billy Casper you and audiences can relate to most?
Billy Casper is a person who has dreams, even in a world with little or no opportunity. He finds pleasure in the free things in life, mainly nature and during this time of recession I think everyone can relate to that. He has an amazing free soul that almost everyone ignores and is judged for who he has been and not for who he is now.
What do you think it is about the story that makes it so enduringly popular?
It is well written and can be appreciated by all ages and generations. Stories of people achieving against the odds will always be popular, especially when everyone in their world is against them. Look at David and Goliath or Billy Elliot. However, there is a sad truth about Kestrel For A Knave, in that Billy Casper is never appreciated. As an audience member or reader you are willing Billy to succeed only to be met by a heart breaking end.
What can audiences expect from this production of Kes?
A highly original and honest stage production of Barry Hines’ novel. Whilst being on stage it is filmic in quality. It also boasts a wonderful cast including Daniel Casey and Katherine Dow Blyton.
You recently performed alongside David Essex in All The Fun Of The Fair. What was that like and what’s your most enduring memory of the tour?
It’s the most fun I have ever had on tour. On and off stage the entire company enjoyed themselves. I made a lot of good friends on that job and we became like a family. David Essex is a great man to be around and a superb company leader, generous and giving both professionally and personally. I loved creating the role of Jonny; it is a role that will stay with me forever. My most enduring memory of All The Fun Of The Fair is laughing all the time and being happy to be at work.
What advice would you give to anybody thinking of becoming an actor?
Go for it but be realistic. Know what your strength and weakness’ are. Personally I think it’s wise to get an education while you can. Get involved in theatre locally and look into going to drama school. Go and watch as much theatre as you can and read plays.
Do you have any pre-show superstitions or routines at all and do you get nervous before going on stage?
I’m afraid not although I always like to listen to music whilst getting ready. As for nerves I occasionally get a cough that sounds like someone choking, but it soon passes.
What’s next for Stefan Butler?
I am in Syntax Era which will be coming out on BBC4 in October. After that and this tour I am planning to go on holiday.
Stefan Butler was speaking to Chris High