Memory Box - Kes Interview with Director Sarah Brigham from 2013

Re-visit the origins of Derby Theatre's first year after re-opening in this throwback interview with Sarah Brigham. Many of the hallmarks seen in Derby Theatre productions today began from the production of Kes...

Kes is the first show directed by Sarah Brigham since arriving at Derby Theatre as Artistic Director with a mission to restore homegrown productions. Nigel Powlson finds out why she has chosen this modern classic for Derby...

Kes may have been written 45 years ago but Sarah Brigham believes it’s still “a story for our times” which will particularly resonate with Derby audiences.

That’s why she has chosen this enduring favorite as the second home-produced show since she took over as Artistic Director. It will also be the first show that Sarah will direct herself.

She says: “It’s a story about hope and looking outside your own four walls. It’s a beautiful story which is touching but also with moments of comedy in it.”

The novel A Kestrel for a Knave was written by Barry Hines and was first published in 1968. It was turned into a film (now regarded as a classic of British cinema) in 1970 by Ken Loach. It’s the story of Billy, a 15-year old who eases some of the pain of his grim northern upbringing when he finds and trains a kestrel.

Sarah says “It was originally set in Barnsley but my experience is that Derby and Derbyshire share the same mining history. So I believe there’s a strong connection there too for audiences.”

“It’s a great story and although it is from the 1960s it’s still very much a story for our times:  it says something very important about the role of children and young people in our society and how we need to nurture them to ensure we all ultimately flourish. As the economic downturn continues and as creativity is getting further and further squeezed from our children’s curriculum, I think we can learn some lessons from the text too about what happens when we ignore the ingenuity and the skills of youth.  What has saddened me as I’ve researched, worked and lived Kes in preparation for rehearsals is the realization that, actually, in many ways, some 15-year-olds today are in a much worse situation than Billy was – at least Billy does have some job opportunities, even if it is down the pit – today that is not necessarily so.  But, ultimately, this story is one of hope, of optimism – I believe Billy will rise again; he talks about having raised other animals before and so I think he will again. He’s a fighter and if the adult world can only see his resilience as a positive then he will flourish too, in his own particular way.

A Learning Theatre

As well as being a great story which will reach out to audiences, Kes ticks lots of boxes for Derby Theatre, following on from Cooking With Elvis, which re-established home-produced shows in the spring.

Sarah says: “We are also a Learning Theatre and I wanted to pick a production we could wrap that idea through. Kes is studied at many schools and therefore will be attractive to teachers. It also gives us a chance to use a Young Company, up to 30 (10 a night) from the local community, in the school scenes.”

“We are also looking to collaborate with other arts organisations in the city and Quad will show the film during the run of the show. That’s a really interesting conversation about how a well-loved book becomes a film and stage play and what each medium gives to it.”

Sarah is likely to have a front row seat at Quad for the screening.

“The film is extraordinary – a wonderful piece of work,” she says. “Our role is now to look at how you theatricalize the story.”

Sam Jackson as Billy

One of the keys of crafting a memorable stage production for Sarah is the casting of Billy. Taking the role is Sam Jackson, a 19-year-old who can play younger.

Sarah says: “If you cast a 15-year-old, do they have the life experiences to make Billy convincing? It’s also three and a half weeks of performances every day so you need someone with a bit of experience. So we made the decision to cast an adult but someone who can play down to 15.”

“Sam is a superbly talented young man.  He brought tears to my eyes in the audition when he gave the final speech. He really gets it. He has that cheekiness but also vulnerability. He can absolutely play the truth of the character and, if we get it right, there should be some heart-breaking moments. Alongside Sam, the nine supremely talented actorsreally work together to make this a truly ensemble production.”

Producing Work

Sarah believes that following the success of Cooking With Elvis, this production of Kes can add to the feel-good factor that is evident at Derby Theatre at the moment.

She says: “We are back, making our own work as well as receiving work and very different types of productions; from a contemporary classic like Kes to a new musical, physical theatre, Christmas shows and a Greek classic in the New Year with The Odyssey.”

“We are spinning lots of plates at the moment and I’m finding out what the audiences like. It’s fantastic that the audiences are responding so positively and starting to come back. These are very exciting times for Derby Theatre.”

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