- TES - Tes of the D'rbervilles re-imagined
A contemporary theatrical adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s celebrated novel, in which the tragic heroine is reinvented for the 21st century as a teenage boy from a Newcastle council estate who is found to be descended from a famous Romantic poet.
- TES looks at Hardy's themes of historical determinism and the erosion of social mobility in
the Victoria era and re-examines them in contemporary post-industrial Britain.
The show has, so far, enthralled audiences whether they be familiar or unfamiliar with the original. A spoken word story version was devised orally with directorial support from New York storyteller Martin Dockery to premier at The Victoria Fringe Festival in 2013 where it was a critical success
TES looks at Hardy's themes of historical determinism and the erosion of social mobility in the Victoria era and re-examines them in contemporary post-industrial Britain.
"It’s fascinating following the threads of Hardy’s tale as Larkin reweaves them." CVV Magazine
The show has, so far, enthralled audiences whether they be familiar or unfamiliar with the original. A spoken word story version was devised orally with directorial support from New York storyteller Martin Dockery to premier at The Victoria Fringe Festival in 2013 where it was a critical succes.
Written & performed by Steve Larkin, immersive audio-scape designed with Chris Full, dramaturge from Lizzy McBain.
Reviews for TES
Vue Weekly Edmonton - Aug 2014
A modern retelling of Tess of the D'Urbervilles, TES is the story of a teenage boy of working- class background who is accused of a rape he didn't commit and the consequences for the rest of his life that stem from his condemnation. Writer and performer Steve Larkin manages to fill the tragic tale with humour, poetry, wordplay and enough pathos to leave the audience shaken. In addition, the show is a journey through contemporary Britain and the cracks Larkin sees forming around the culture. It's an involved show - it is, after all, based on a Victoria novel - but Larkin has the skill to weave the complicated plot together without leaving the audience behind. One of the best shows at this year's fringe, no doubt.
- Bryan Birtles
Edmonton Sun - Aug 2014 4 1/2 STARS
A modern reinvention of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Ubervilles with an urban twist, Steve Larkin tackles dark subject matter in a tale that is as shocking as it was to its Victorian era audience as it is on stage at the Edmonton International Fringe Festival, reinvented with new and disturbing relevance in TES.
When Kes Byron’s teacher discovers he is related to a famous poet, Lord Byron, the teacher woos her pupil over facebook with poetic sweet nothings and emoticons.
Almost swallowed by darkness on stage, Steve Larkin’s sharp delivery paints the scene of the rape of a young boy from Newcastle, powerful poetics leaving the audience stunned, shocked and feeling utterly helpless.
Exposing the same social norms that kept Thomas Hardy’s original heroine and Larkin’s Kes Byron alike under thumb, Larkin — with direction from Martin Dockery — takes a shot at the modern grip of power and status that penalizes and stigmatizes Byron despite his innocence in the story of a boy struggling against a “midas touch in reverse.”
An expertly designed soundscape makes the audience feel as if they are almost lost in his memory with him while lighting creates a shared sense of isolation, as if he Larkin is performing for a solo seat.
Despite the heavy content, Larkin’s interpretation still manages to be lively and, at times, even funny.
Bring a pocket full of tissue before you embark on this emotional journey and prepare to leave stunned and inspired by the power of Larkin’s spoken word.
Perhaps the only thing more tragic than this story would be missing this performance.
CBC Manitoba - July 2014
A few things you need to know about Tes. It’s a modern retelling of the Thomas Hardy novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles. It’s a 75 <sic> minute solo show. And there’s a lot of slam poetry.
Still with me? Great. Because this is a solid show, well worth time in your Fringe schedule. British spoken word artist Steve Larkin has crafted an impressive script. With well-chosen words and a high-energy delivery, he deftly leads us through the life of Kes Byron. Kes is a teenager from the projects whose mother believes he’s destined for greater things. (This being a tragedy, we know better). Larkin brings to life Kes’s ever-hopeful mother, ever-drunken father, gangster friend, and posh teacher. He paints the bleak landscape of post-industrial England from the council estates of Newcastle to the streets of Leeds.
Through his marathon of a performance, Larkin drags us into the heart of class struggle, and face-to-face with the power of destiny to shape our lives.
Larkin creates a young hero we root for, though we know he’s headed for an unhappy end. To me that’s a sign of remarkable storytelling.
Victoria Times Colonist - Aug 2013
UK spoken-word artist Steve Larkin offers a gritty, modern reworking of a Thomas Hardy classic with TES, which reinvents Tess of the D'Urbervilles as a 21st century tragedy. Tess has been transformed into a working-class British teen who's told he's a descendent of Lord Byron. (In the novel, Tess is a peasant girl who learns she's related to the noble D'Urbervilles.) This impresses the lad's new teacher, an upper-middle class type who takes advantage of him, then claims she was sexually molested. After a prison term, the young man reinvents himself, finding success as a minor celebrity on the spoken-word poetry circuit. Ultimately, things turn out badly - with Larkin echoing Hardy's novel in a unique and memorable manner.
This is one of the best shows I've seen at this year's Fringe fest. Dressed simply in a grey hoodie, Larkin presents an Orwellian portrayal of Britain's rotting underbelly that slices like a rusty razor. The script is dense and requires attentive listening. The rewards are there, though - this is an intelligent gut-puncher of a show that lingers.
CVV Magazine - Aug 2013
When his teacher discovers he’s related to the famous poet, Kester Byron becomes the teacher’s pet. Seduced by the boy’s romantic DNA, the teacher woos him on Facebook with poetry and a heart emoticon. But the red rose quickly turns black. In a gender reversal, this raw reinvention of Tess of the D’Urbervilles has a woman raping a boy, and a war of words
pits the upper crust against the poor victim. Edgy as a switchblade, it cuts deep.
Steve Larkin paints play-by-play word pictures that are so graphic, one sees everything in the mind’s eye though staging is often static. This is pure storytelling. The narration of the rape scene is a shock you won’t easily forget, putting you in the backseat as a stunned witness. As he describes a dark and seedy world, Larkin stands alone in the spotlight on a stark stage, wearing simply a hoodie – just as the humble protagonist stands alone and ostracized. The votives on the table and moody music make it feel like we are all attending a vigil in someone’s memory.
It’s fascinating following the threads of Hardy’s tale as Larkin reweaves them. True to form, the main character keeps being pushed unjustly down into the gutter no matter what his talents or innocence. He has “The Midas Touch in reverse” as everything he touches “turns to shit.”
Larkin assails us with spoken-word bullets, a cathartic wail from Kester. The end felt almost anti-climactic at first, but it stalks you all the way home. Long and intense, this play shows the futility of fighting back in a world that has turned its back on you, and how slander and hearsay can be the deadliest weapons. This fierce retelling of an old classic needs to be seen. Leah Callen