Kes (Cast, Doncaster)

Doncaster’s Cast celebrates its first birthday with an adaptation of the much-loved modern classic

Cast‘s new production of Kes is in partnership with Right Up Our Street which is responsible for making art happen throughout the Doncaster community. Therein lies the production’s strength, but also its limitation. There was a genuine sense of community on the first night. Impressively a capable Community Ensemble of 30-plus has been assembled for the play. Also the semi-standing ovation at the end was honouring Cast’s successful first year operating for the community as much as the production – and the evening ended with Cast director Kully Thiarai celebrating its birthday with a speech and a photograph of the entire audience.

Kes by Cast runs until 13 September.
Kes by Cast runs until 13 September.
© Mark Douet

In its own terms, then, the production of Kes is a terrific achievement, but, if we look at it purely as an adaptation and a production, it’s serviceable and modestly enjoyable. The Community Ensemble is excellent, well drilled and alert, with some first-class individual performances: Michael Lynch, for instance, plays MacDowell with more impact than some of the professionals and Oliver Holmes captures the innocence of the little boy with the message getting caned.

The problem with the ensemble is that they are asked to do some rather pointless things at times, aimed to emphasising that this is a community production. The result is a lack of pace. After a promenade prologue outside which I did not get close enough to see properly, the opening scenes moved very slowly and the evening stretched well beyond 10 o’clock, too long for Barry Hines‘ "little book".

The adaptation is by co-directors Philip Osment and Kully Thiarai, the main innovation being the presence of Older Billy (Ray Castleton) to tell the story today. It’s all a bit cosy at the beginning when he looks after Josh, the stray teenager, and finds him a seat, but at times it works well, notably in the cinema narrative which is an intelligent alternative to Hines’ not dissimilar ending. The supposed "new version for Doncaster" amounts to little more than a reference to Bessacar, except, of course, for those 30-plus Doncastrians participating.

Few stand out in a workmanlike cast. Jacob James Beswick rings true as Billy: like Dai Bradley all those years ago, he has to carry the story as someone of apparently negative potential and he does it well, even with less colourful individuals to bounce off than young Bradley had. The exception to this is Ben Burman‘s superbly malevolent Jud, convincing in every boorish word, move and gesture. Jim Pope manages the impossible treble of Gryce, Sugden and Farthing successfully, though the contrasts are blurred by having one "male teacher" actor.

Dom Coyote‘s music is attractive and appropriate and the production utilises the resources of the new theatre, with Emma Donovan‘s looming, but mobile, set and effective use of projections by Will Simpson and Stuart West.

Kes runs at Cast Doncaster until Saturday 13 September 2014.