How Kes character without words certainly speaks volumes

Anton Skrzypiciel as Mr Gryce, Chester Hayes as Billy Casper in rehearsals for KES.  Credit: Johan Persson.
Anton Skrzypiciel as Mr Gryce, Chester Hayes as Billy Casper in rehearsals for KES. Credit: Johan Persson.

As one of the performers in the new dance theatre version of Kes premiering at the Crucible, Anton Skrzypiciel has the task of creating a character without using words.

“I am playing the horrible headteacher, Mr Gryce,” he says about his role in Barry Hines’ story of Billy Casper, the boy who trains a kestrel as an escape from the harsh reality of life in a Barnsley pit village.

“There is no dialogue at all, there might be a couple of vocal things like shouts but there is nothing that uses texts to move the show forward, it is all done with movement.

“I think young people are pretty smart and Kes is a pretty fundamental thing in this neck of the woods and most people know at least the basics about the story and in some cases the details, because many kids will have studied it.”

Gryce features in a couple of memorable scenes. “There’s the assembly and the singing of a hymn which has a movement component. We get the kids messing around and Gryce getting more and more annoyed and we have the scene where the poor little boy delivering a message from another teacher ends up getting caned.”

Australian-born Anton Skrzypiciel’s background as a trained actor has come into play. “Finding a reason for doing things or a motivation I think that’s something that grounds my work in a very real way which is very useful for things like this,” he says. “In the book you don’t learn a great deal about Gryce so you have to build a history for him. You get hints of things. I think he is a very disappointed man and you feel he may have come into the profession with some level of enthusiasm and over the years it has been whittled away which is perhaps the norm in teaching.

“There are no characters in the book who are the good guys, nobody is perfect, certainly not Billy. And that’s what’s interesting, that you still have this sympathy with someone who is not the good boy. He’s a little arsehole at times, he really is. You can look at this world and see the disappointments of the lives.”

Early in his acting career Skrzypiciel opted to get more specialist training in movement. “It was all a bit higgledy-piggledy but in some ways it has worked out well – that ability to mix acting and movement which has been the thing I have been guided into.”

He worked with Portuguese choreographer Rui Horta and the SOAP Dance Theatre in Frankfurt which developed a style of combining text and movement. After a five-year sojourn teaching scuba diving in Asia he continues to work with him and is now based in Lisbon.

“I come back and forth and the last thing I did was work with Arthur Pita on The Metamorphosis which we did in London and then took to New York which is where Jonathan (Watkins, director of Kes) saw me when he was over doing The Machine: Kasparov versus the Chess Computer. It sounds glamorous when you say, ‘I was spotted in New York’.”

The downside is that he tends to live out of a suitcase. After Kes Skrzypiciel has assigments lined up in Germany, Northern Portugal and France.

“I am not going to bitch and complain about it because a lot of my contemporaries have stopped,” he reflects. That could be because age has caught up with them physically or lack of parts for mature performers.

“But also the sheer economic cruelty of the profession where it is difficult to make ends meet often,” he adds. “I am lucky in a way because I am built tough – not pretty but tough – good Polish-Germanic stock. I think people employ me because I look like a normal person but when I move there is still something to be seen as a dancer. I think people can be surprised at the physicality that I still have. But I think that’s sometimes difficult for choreographers to see because they are so used to beautiful bodies.”

Kes starts previews tonight, March 27, and continues until April 5.