TES

Poet Steve Larkin presents a reimagined version of Thomas Hardy’s classic novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles. The story follows the same basic plot as the book but turns Tess into a 15 year old boy from modern day Newcastle. Like in Hardy’s novel things start out bad and get worse for Tes as he endures a whole catalogue of sorrows told as an epic poem by Larkin.

The poem is a compelling story which stands on its own, no prior knowledge required.

Although there are obvious reasons for linking the show to Tess, actually it is good enough without this premise. The poem is a compelling story which stands on its own, no prior knowledge required. Larkin tells the tale of our doomed hero through a mixture of recitation and blocked out movement where he switches between characters. The verse is accompanied by a well put together illustrative audioscape that brings the scenes to life.

The poem is intelligently layered with social commentary bringing the plight of Hardy’s Yorkshire working class right up to date. Our protagonist Keston Byron’s early years are overshadowed by an alcoholic father and a devoted but fussy mother. An unlikely descendant of the great romantic poet Lord Byron this fact initially means very little to him but becomes significant later on. His life takes the first of many hurtling downturns when his school becomes the victim of the government’s super teacher scheme and the predatory Alice Prycer Fox enters his life. A middle class young woman she is hopelessly out of touch with the needs of her pupils. There is a certain amount of inverted snobbery in Larkin’s writing of this character but the sentiment is well-placed, nobody from such a privileged background could possible understand the reality of Kez’s troubled life.

As the story continues Kez’s situation freefalls, Alice causes great harm almost without being aware of it. A total monster the character is slightly difficult to believe in because in reality there are few pretty, intelligent 28 year old women who would rape a 15 year old and then frame him for the same crime whilst carrying his unborn child. Forced to leave his previous life behind Kez becomes Tes and slowly rebuilds the damage caused to his prospects by the turbulent teenage years and discovers a new outlet in performance poetry; are these his Byronic genes finally showing through?

Reviews by Lettie Mckie

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Austentatious: An Improvised Jane Austen Novel

★★★★★
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★★★★★
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★★★★
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★★★★★
Charing Cross Theatre

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★★
London Theatre Workshop

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★★★★

Performances

Location

The Blurb

Tess of the D'Urbervilles re-imagined. Contemporary theatrical adaptation of Thomas Hardy's celebrated novel in which the tragic heroine is reinvented for the 21st century as a teenage boy from a Newcastle council estate, who is found to be descended from a famous Romantic poet. Spoken word theatre from poet, musician, and Hammer & Tongue poetry slam founder Steve Larkin. 'An Orwellian portrayal of Britain's rotting underbelly that slices like a rusty razor' ***** (Victoria Times). 'Remarkable storytelling' **** (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation). 'Prepare to leave stunned and inspired by the power of Larkin's spoken word' ***** (Edmonton Sun). www.stevelarkin.com