It’s never too late to pursue your dreams in life, as one of the Sheffield-born stars of a new version of Kes on stage in Doncaster can testify.
Ray Castleton, who plays the older Billy Casper in a new stage version of Barry Hines’ much-loved story of a boy and his kestrel, only became a professional actor three years ago. He graduated from a theatre and performance degree in Leeds aged 63.
He admits frankly that depression had a lot to do with his decision to pursue his passion professionally after years on the amateur stage locally.
As a teenager Ray trained as a carpet and flooring fitter for Brightside and Carbrook Co-op, based in Exchange Street and then Castle House. He worked for other local companies including Cockayne’s, eventually setting up his own business.
Pressure of work had forced Ray to give up acting as a hobby. He said: “It was the biggest mistake I ever made. That was my therapy.
“I had a bit of a breakdown and my business got too much for me. I went to the GP and got some anti-depressants.
“When it got to me I never felt so alone in my life. You start thinking the family might be better off without you. One night I went home, threw my keys on the kitchen table and said, ‘I can’t do this any more’.
“My wife asked what I wanted to do and I said I wanted to go to drama school. She said, ‘I’ve been waiting for you to say that for the last 10 years’.”
Since then he says he’s never looked back and his many stage roles including working with the famous Hull Truck Theatre Company.
Ray has made short films and been on Emmerdale but his most unusual job has been role playing as a patient in student exams at the University of Sheffield medical school!
His friend and mentor Ruth Carney-Nash, a West End and Broadway director who also runs the Carney Academy theatre school in Sheffield, suggested he would be perfect for a new version of Kes.
The show has been created to celebrate the first anniversary of Cast, Doncaster’s new performing arts centre.
Like many South Yorkshire people, Ray has a soft spot for Ken Loach’s locally-filmed classic film, Kes, based on Barry Hines’ novel A Kestrel for a Knave.
He said: “I got the phone call that I got the part while I was in Sainsbury’s shopping. I did a jig in the fruit and veg aisle!
“My wife said, ‘What on earth are you doing?’ and I told her I’d got it and she did a jig as well.”
Kes is more than living up to his expectations so far. Ray said that, without spoiling the surprise of how the show works, the older Billy links past and present in the story as he looks back on his life but isn’t a conventional narrator. Jacob James Beswick plays the younger Billy.
The play involves a professional cast and local actors, plus a real live kestrel, and the action takes place both inside and outside the theatre.
Ray said: “I’m loving it, it’s such a challenge to me. It’s not so much the dialogue that’s the challenge but you’ve got to forget a lot of the rules for acting.’’
He can really identify with Billy through his own working class childhood in Sheffield.
He said: “I left school like Billy at 15 but unlike him I wasn’t bullied at home, I was nurtured and looked after.’’
Now living in Chesterfield, Ray has helped to set up a new theatre company called Melting Shop with actors David Chafer and Sean Corey.
They have written a show called Sense of Duty, which looks at sons’ relationships with their parents.
He also appeared this month at Experience Barnsley in Blue Pawn, a monologue he wrote telling the story of the events at Orgreave in the miners’ strike through the eyes of a policeman from a mining community.
Kes is at Cast from September 5 to 13 and also stars Mexborough-born Shameless actress Sally Carman as Billy’s mum. Bookings: go to www.castindoncaster.com or call 01302 303 959. All tickets are £16.50 and £13.50 concessions.