Kes is flying high at Derby Theatre

Sam Jackson and Jimmy Fairhurst as brothers Billy and Jud in the opening scene from Kes''Photo by Robert Day

Sam Jackson and Jimmy Fairhurst as brothers Billy and Jud in the opening scene from Kes''Photo by Robert Day

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It must be daunting to tackle a stage adaptation of a popular book, doubly so when that book has already been turned into a much-loved film.

But hats off to Derby Theatre for their stage version of Kes, the second home-produced show at the venue since Sarah Brigham took over as artistic director.

This latest take on Barry Hines’s book A Kestrel For A Knave really hits the spot, capturing all the poignancy of the original.

Skilfully adapted for the stage by Lawrence Till and neatly directed by Sarah Brigham, Kes tells the tale of Billy, a South Yorkshire lad on the verge of leaving school who has very little in his life that makes him happy.

Uninterested in school, used and abused by his much older brother Jud, ignored by his mum, picked on by the other kids and bullied by games teacher Mr Sugden, he also has an absent dad who left home years before.

The only thing that keeps him going is his daydreaming, and also the kestrel that he finds and trains, giving his bleak life some hope and meaning.

The play really belongs to Skins star Sam Jackson as Billy. It’s hard to shake off visions of the film version of Billy, but Jackson succeeds admirably, capturing Billy’s vulnerability, his dreaming nature, the toughness that is developing below the surface and the sadness at the heart of his young life.

Full marks to Jackson, he carries the show superbly and the play is a triumph for him.

Most of the rest of the cast play multiple roles, and play them well.

Young local actors also mix in well with the ensemble, playing Billy’s schoolmates, and the set, music, lighting and overall tone of the play are just right.

Kes can be seen at Derby Theatre until October 5.

STEVE EYLEY