Darkly evocative writing and a virtuoso performance are nearly scuttled for want of an editor in this modern re-telling of Thomas Hardy’s mournful classic, Tess of the D’Urbervilles.
Don’t worry, you needn’t have read it. This version follows Kes, a working class Newcastle lad whose glimmers of good luck always turn bad. He’s a descendent of Lord Byron, which later fuels his passion for spoken-word poetry. But he gets wrongly convicted of raping his upper-class teacher, loses a BBC slam poetry contest and then the love of his life, among other calamities.
British actor/writer Steve Larkin’s staccato words conjure an almost tactile world of council-estate life in northern England, and his characters are full and real and wonderful. But at 90 minutes, it becomes an exercise in artistic ego. What could be an intense exploration of a thwarted modern life is crushed by too many words, too many lurching plot twists, too many trips to the Glastonbury music festival. Friday night, two young audience members actually walked out with 10 minutes to go.
— Mary Agnes Welch