A NEW production of a much-loved story originally written in response to the 11-plus is “bang on” for young people today, says its adapter.

Perth Theatre’s Kes sees Lou Kemp direct Robert Alan Evans’ adaptation of Barry Hines’ novel, published in 1968 as A Kestrel For A Knave.

In Ken Loach’s breakthrough film the next year, David Bradley won a Bafta for his performance as a 15-year-old Barnsley boy who finds the adults around him have limited expectations for his future.

Ignored by his mother, bullied by his brother and teachers, Billy Casper’s academic struggles supposedly mean he’s destined for the pit. But the lad’s life changes when he steals a kestrel chick, raises her and trains her to fly.

The birds are notoriously hard to train: mess up just four passes from a hundred, and a kestrel will not fly for you.

Hines, who died in 2016, said the book was partly an attack on the divisions created by the 11+ exam. As he commented, if Billy “had done an A-Level in falconry, he would have got an A”. The things we measure are so bound up with administration – writing, mathematics, reading,” says Evans. “Billy can communicate with a bird but that will never be measured. Apart from an English teacher who thinks he may have something, Billy is just putting his head down and trying to get through it, which is what I think a lot of kids feel.”

The tight two-hander sees TV/theatre actor Matthew Barker join Danny Hughes as Billy.

The latter made his professional stage debut last year in The 306: Dusk, the final part of the National Theatre of Scotland’s trilogy about the men shot for desertion during the First World War.

As that production showed, decades of technological changes have not altered human nature.

“I get really emotional about the story, which was written 50 years ago but feels really bang-on today,” says Evans.

“Young people are still hopeful like Billy, and they still often get that beaten out of them by a system that doesn’t allow for a lot of difference. Billy has all these amazing resources inside him. “He’s like one of those businessmen you hear saying: ‘I left school at 14, and now look at me,’ because they have this drive or they see things that other people don’t. I love Billy and I want him to be heard.”

Until November 16, Perth Theatre, 7.30pm, mats Nov 7 and 14 1.30pm; Nov 9 and 16 2.30pm; Nov 10 3pm, £19, £10 to £17 concs. Tel: 01738 621031. www.horsecross.co.uk