I have just finished reading the stage script of this story, based on the classic novel that I read a few years ago. I loved the book so was keen to read the condensed version for the theatre. It does not disappoint and I would love to see a production of it.
I read the book for a readers group and didn't expect much as I was familiar with the story from the acclaimed film that I saw years ago. I loved it though. It made me laugh and also made me very sad.
It is the story of Billy Casper, a young teenager growing up in a run down mining town in Northern England in the 1960's. He has lived a pretty uncared for life after his father left when he was young, with his bullying older brother and a mother who has given up. He is left to fend for himself, even for food a lot of the time, and has a reputation as a thief, a nuisance and a no hoper in his town and school, where he is bullied by the children and his teachers. But Billy has a secret passion for wildlife, and especially for his trained Kestrel which he keeps in the shed. He has read all of the books and taught himself the refined skills necessary to rear a young kestrel and teach it to fly and return to him. His respect, patience and love for this bird makes us realise that Billy is not a 'no-hoper' if only he was given a chance to hope for himself.
The book is easy to read and very entertaining from the start. Our sympathies are immediately with Billy from the moment there is no food in the house and he has to go and find his own breakfast. We are let into Billy's secret world and longings for a stable loving family and we feel every injustice and misunderstanding heaped upon him. This is not a grim book though, and has many laugh out loud moments, most notably the school football match and Billy's borrowed shorts. It is also beautifully written and very memorable.
The stage play has condensed the novel into a compact play, including all of the major events that keep Billy's day at quite a pace, right up until its dramatic conclusion.
I have read some criticism that the book is dated and it relies on stereotypes of Northern England pit towns. I didn't find it dated at all, and found the main characters convincing and interesting. I have loved this book ever since, and highly recommend it. My reading group at the time all enjoyed it too, even though some of them were not too fussed at the outset. I am now on the look out for the play. And of course the film could do with another viewing too!