Review: Kes, Leeds Playhouse Pop-Up Theatre, until February 16. Box office: 0113 213 0113 7700 or

ROBERT Alan Evans's adaptation of Barry Hines's 1968 novel A Kestrel For A Knave first ran at the Playhouse in June 2016.

Now it has taken to the skies again, and from this week to February 16, it runs in tandem with Debbie Tucker Green's Random. The 70-minute Kes will start at 7pm, the 55-minute Random at 8.45pm, each night.

Original director Amy Leach is busy rehearsing Hamlet for the resumption of the Playhouse pop-up ensemble season, and so Evans's two-hander has been remounted by associate director Martin Leonard, and what a superb job he has done.

Lucas Button has taken over from ensemble member Dan Parr as Billy while Jack Lord returns as the Man of many parts.

Original designer Max Johns has designed the doleful set for both Kes and Random, and this time he has replaced a wooden-slatted hill with a climbing frame of pile upon pile of stacked chairs that rise to the grey Yorkshire skyline but now evoke Billy's dead-end education as much as a hillside where kestrels nest. Around this is gathered home, school and workplace detail: broken chairs, benches, dustbins, an old bike, hissing radios.

This is the best known of Hines's stories of impoverished working-class lives, a torrid tale of a South Yorkshire mining family where 15-year-old Billy finds release from the drudgery of school and the imminent noose of the pitman's grind that awaits him when he starts to feed, nurture and train Kes, the kestrel he finds on the wind-blasted Yorkshire moorland.

Button's Billy weaves in and out of a story told by Lord in the guise of Billy’s worn, enervated older self. A constant shadow, he brings alive memories of Billy's harsh past, after finding the glove young Billy had used to train Kes as he strove to break free from his isolation.

Only his shadow is on Billy's side and even he is haunted by hindsight. Everyone else Lord plays makes his life a misery: his bullying brother Judd; his wild, neglectful mother; his relentlessly cruel, constantly caning headmaster; and the big-head football coach.

Consequently, Button's Billy is the secondary, rather than primary, player in Evans’s adaptation, hammering home how Billy can never escape what lies in store, no matter the brief relief and fleeting friendship that the kestrel brings. That said, Button's devastating performance announces an exciting northern talent sure to fly high, while Lord's chameleon gifts for playing a multitude of roles with authenticity, alacrity, authority and assiduous detail impresses once more.

The Playhouse website may depict Billy, arms outstretched, with a kestrel flying above him, but we never see even a feather or hear a cry, and nor is a puppet employed, and yet Kes feels ever present.

Flight is represented by Billy spinning the meat-treat lure and looking to the skies for signs of Kes, or Billy and Billy’s shadow ducking and diving when Kes flies low. Such is the wonder of imaginative theatre in creating a sense of awe at the exhilarating power and spectacle of a bird of prey, and significantly this is the image that closes Evans's play after the brutality of what has gone before.

In the close-up Pop-Up Theatre, Kes's impact is even greater than in 2016, and the chill of a 51-year-old story cuts as deeply as ever in an industrial Yorkshire now stripped of so much industry.

Charles Hutchinson