Kes reimagined in dance and revived on film

Published: 3 November 2019
Reporter: Vera Liber

Based on the novel A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines, a new film by choreographer Jonathan Watkins and director Ross MacGibbon, originally conceived for Sheffield's Crucible Theatre in 2014, will be screened in Leeds, Sheffield, Halifax and Newcastle upon Tyne to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Ken Loach’s film Kes.

Kes Reimagined will première at Leeds International Film Festival on 7 November, followed by screenings at Showroom Cinema, Sheffield on 8 November, Square Chapel Arts Centre, Halifax on 9 November and Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle upon Tyne on 10 November.

Kes is set in a Yorkshire mining community where young Billy Casper, troubled at home and at school, finds solace when he befriends and trains a kestrel. As the beloved Kes swoops and spins freely in the Barnsley countryside a special bond between boy and bird unfolds.

Kes Reimagined reunites the creative team behind the 2014 stage production. Choreographer Jonathan Watkins was winner of Best Classical Choreography at The Critics’ Circle National Dance Awards in 2016 and Best New Dance Production at The South Bank Sky Arts Awards in 2016 for Northern Ballet’s take on George Orwell’s 1984. An original score is by Tony Award-nominated Alex Baranowski. Puppetry design and direction is by Rachael Canning. Set and costume design by Ben Stones has been reworked for film and adds video elements by Daniel Denton. Lighting design is by multiple Olivier and Tony Award-winner Mark Henderson.

Six members of the Crucible Theatre production’s original cast return for the new film. Chester Hayes reprises his role of Billy Casper and is joined by new cast members Kristen McNally as Mum and Tobias Batley as Jud, Billy’s wayward brother. Also returning for the screen are Dom Czapski as the sympathetic teacher Mr Farthing, Anton Skrzypiciel as Headmaster Mr Gryce and Phil Snowden as Mr Sugden, the self-loving PE teacher. Laura Careless and Barnaby Meredith play multiple roles.

Watkins said, “the film takes this familiar northern story and reimagines it through dance to uncover the poetic journey between boy and bird, isolation and freedom, disconnect and passion. Being from Barnsley, the book by Barry Hines and subsequently Ken Loach’s film feel like they are almost part of my DNA. I grew up with family and friends quoting from them. When considering the stories I want to tell through dance on film, this has always been the frontrunner, and through music, puppetry, video and movement hope to uncover a new way of seeing this iconic narrative.”

Kes Reimagined was filmed in August 2019 at Production Park in Wakefield.