Telling the story of a boy's relationship with his pet kestrel, Kes is essentially a tale of escape. For 15-year-old Billy Casper, growing up in a working class northern town, there is little room in life for freedom - everything is laid out before him from the regiment of his school life to the expectation that he will spend the rest of his life down the pit. Bullied at school and by his half-brother Jud, Billy finds solace and escape in the bond that develops between him and his kestrel.
The young cast from Beacon Theatre Group are joined by two adult actors to play a number of the supporting roles for this production. This created an interesting mix in the texture of the performances and avoided the issue of youngsters having to play older characters. Northern accents were used throughout, which some of the younger cast members struggled with from the outset. At times it was difficult to make out what they were saying beneath their somewhat wandering tones. This is a wordy play and the text-heavy script was something of a challenge for some of the cast. They seemed a little under-rehearsed, evident in a lack of commitment in many of the performances. The lead, however, was well handled by a young actor giving it his best; he conveyed the times he spent with Kes (obviously not a real kestrel!) particularly convincingly.
Although this performance can appear a little laboured at times, it is a brave attempt at a difficult text by a youthful cast. Worth seeing if you are a fan of the book or the original film, but far from the strongest performance by a youth group at the Fringe this year.