Reviewed by Demi Franks

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

‘You can’t train them, Kestrels, they’re the hardest bird to train…’

Adapted for the stage by Robert Alan Evans, ‘Kes’ is based on Barry Hines’ 1968 much loved and adored classic ‘ A Kestrel for a Knave.’ Set in a small mining town in South Yorkshire, Kes follows fifteen year-old Billy Casper, who is emotionally and physically mistreated by his mother, his school and society in general. A by-product of our unjust and discriminatory class system, Billy lives a pretty desolate life, until he finds meaning in rearing and training a kestral. Kes is a story of youth, social injustice, and humanity…

In his Director’s note, Banerjee explains, ‘…this isn’t Kes as we know it’ and he’s correct; this is a bold conceptual visceral piece of art, which most certainly maintains the essence of Hinde’s modern classic at it’s core, but with a raw modern twist. Banerjee has successfully assembled a talented team both on and off stage, who execute well to create this brave modern piece; Braithwaite’s beautifully rich and deeply moving sound composition is definitely a highlight and is really rather impressive and impactful throughout. This coupled with Field’s and Platt’s atmospheric set design and lighting design respectively, provide a wonderful back drop for this story to be reborn in a new imaginative theatrical way.

Although at times the piece can feel a little too abstract, making it hard to fully engage with, maintain focus and follow as the scenes and characters develop and interchange abruptly, the skilful actors continue to draw us back in time and time again for the duration of this one hour performance. All three performers work extremely hard throughout and their stage presence is quite remarkable. Each individual takes full ownership of and graces the space with finesse, allowing the story-telling of this powerful tale to unfold with style, poise and a whole lot of heart.

Whilst set in the 1960s, the themes of Kes most definitely still resonate in a 2022 post pandemic modern society. At the route, the same profound questions, of the same injustices, of the same failing social class system are still being explored, and therefore the story is still very much as relevant, fitting and powerful for today’s present-day audience as it was over 50 years ago.

A special mention has to go to Bolton Octagon. They’ve done a wonderful job with the opening of their brand new building;the welcome was warm, the space was inviting, it is everything regional theatre should be and boy how lucky are we to have this here in the North West, right on our doorsteps!

The Octagon Theatre and Theatre by the Lake’s Kes is a dark, powerful and bolshy adaptation of a much loved classic that certainly packs a heart felt punch.

Catch ‘Kes’ at the Octagon Theatre until Saturday 2nd April tickets available here.

Or at Theatre by the Lake from Wednesday 6th- Saturday 30th April tickets available here.

Hobson’s Choice

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Innovative adaptations and the Royal Exchange Theatre go hand in hand; just looking at this week’s Autumn/Winter programme announcement confirms the theatre’s reputation as bold decision makers who delight in mixing things up. Interestingly Hobson’s Choice doesn’t relocate too far from its Salford origins, settling on the streets of a fledgling Northern Quarter but it’s reimagining by playwright Tanika Gupta brings a fresh vibrancy to this classic Northern comedy. The Hobson’s are now an enterprising Ugandan-Asian family running a tailor’s business in the city’s 1980’s backstreets thanks to the diamonds Mrs Hobson (then Patel) managed to smuggle out of Uganda in a batch of pakoras.

Hari Hobson (Tony Jayawardena) is a firm believer in what we’d now describe as wildly out-dated attitudes, his social standing means the world to him, a world in which he thinks women should be seen but preferably not heard and that at age 30 any female is well and truly past her prime. He delights in reminding his daughters that it is indeed a man’s world whilst he attempts to keep up appearances as head of the household despite it being clear for all to see that eldest daughter Durga (Shakini Peiris) clearly rules the roost.

His second generation daughters are desperate to break the mould, led by eldest sister Durga who has grown increasingly sick and tired of being the brains behind the business with little in gratitude or reward.

Tanika Gupta’s innovative adaptation enriches the story with well-timed humour, sparkling exchanges and touching sincerity which are made all the better by the well-researched Ugandan-Asian historical references. The strength of the cast is key to the success of this piece with each and every cast member giving a performance that is second to none.

Tony Jayawardena is outstanding as the ill-tempered family patriarch Hari who revels in his adopted Britishness yet despairs when his daughters attempt to explore their new culture. His comedic timing is perfection particularly during his superb exchanges with eldest daughter Durga (Shakini Peiris). They butt heads throughout with both hilarious and touching consequences.

Shakini Peiris is commanding as determined and hardworking Durga, the real innovator in the family. She convinces entirely as ambitions Durga whilst achieving a relatable balance of frustration and love for her infuriating father.

Special mention must go to Esh Alladi whose portrayal of introverted tailor Ali Mossop is an absolute joy. The journey he goes on is remarkable, starting out as a quaking bundle of nerves he is shaped with genuine tenderness by Durga, never losing his warmth and innocent charm and providing the audience with some of the best laugh out loud moments in the production.

Rosa Maggiora’s set design uses the Exchange’s unique space to great effect with Matt Haskins lighting design adding atmosphere and depth to proceedings.

This brilliantly portrayed and beautifully developed comedy piles on the laughs while director Atri Banerjee also ensures the moments of calm and consideration are allowed to gently develop. Family life in all its ugly complexities and wonderful contradictions are exposed in this delightful production. There is very little to criticise here, a slight lull in pace during Act II perhaps but this really is a minor quibble. This is an innovative and fresh take on a classic Northern tale with storytelling brought to beautiful and brilliant life by a skilled cast and creative team. Uplifting and joyous theatre told with true heart.

Catch Hobson’s Choice at the Royal Exchange until Saturday 6th July tickets available here.