Kes: a metaphor for an ambition

We went to watch Kes at the Oldham Coliseum on Friday night. It was a fabulous production and it has disturbed and gripped me ever since.

Kes, the feral boy. Father left home when he was six, neglected by mother, bullied by big brother. The food he eats is largely stolen from others. Picked on by anyone who feels like it. In trouble with the police.

And then he finds a baby Kestrel and becomes absorbed in training the bird. It takes patience and skill. A boy who never reads, reads voraciously in order to learn.

A teacher is able to pull this out of him and he is transformed into a lad full of enthusiasm, respect and joy as he talks about his Kes. A person with purpose.

But the story is a tragedy. Because in revenge for not putting a bet on a winning horse (Billy spent it on chips for himself) and he because he could not find and beat him up his bullying brother kills the bird.

All this was played out on stage and in my soul. The playright Lawrance Till says: “The bird is a metaphor of his ambition – what he delights in, what he is reaching for, what he runs towards.” The tragedy is the destruction of a young boys ambition, which with life so stacked against him, was as fragile and as vulnerable as himself – and as beautiful.

Lawrence continues: “We may not have the extreme events happen to us as happen to Billy Casper, but we all have ambitions, we all have passion, invest in something and, unless we are very lucky, we all have a sense of loss in our lives – divorced parents or the loss of a pet or maybe something more tragic than that.”

What are my dreams, my ambitions, what do I run towards, what do I invest so much of myself in? Do not allow the bully destructiveness of the bullying big brother to kill it, nurture and protect it – do not show the indifference and neglect of this story’s mother. Be the English teacher, empowering, enabling, interested, mentoring, listening respecting – so that your dream might with patience be tamed and trained and one day take flight but always come back to you.

For it occurred to me last night that each character in this story could be an aspect of oneself – if the kestrel was a metaphor for a boy’s ambition then the mother should have been nurturing it.

And I wonder, for myself and others whether if we treat our own ambitions with such violence. If we do, then whether we also treat the dreams, ambitions, delights of others with similar violence – even without realising it.

And it reminded me of growing up in a Lancashire industrial town in the 1980ies with the miners strike, the decimation of manufacturing industry in the area.  The state, Government and policy of the time did not care how this crushed and destroyed the communities, the families, and above all the kids of our town – the kids I went to school with. Let us never forget the Billy’s of this nation when we make policy and investment, when we make swinging cuts and take austerity measures. Let us not be a state that kills Billy’s Kes.

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