by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall
directed by Alan Hargreaves
Adapted from the 1959 novel of the same name, Keith Waterhouse's Billy Liar sits somewhat uncomfortably between being outdated and a vintage piece of theatre. Plays of the period had a lot of words, occasionally spilling over into repetition. However, the play is what it is, a story of a feckless dreamer for whom the humdrum existence of being an undertaker’s clerk with a string of girlfriends, three of whom he has promised to marry.
On an open set we were shown the Fisher household living room, the lobby and stairs leading to the bedrooms USL. Furniture and properties of the late 50s created a picture of domesticity of the time. As with all period pieces, attention to detail is paramount, and the props team had done a superb job in creating a typical home of the time. What was particularly impressive was the space created on such a small stage, for the performers to be able to move around easily. Very many congratulations to the design team and the set builders.
Again, setting costumes and hairstyles within the right time frame is essential to establish the period and again, congratulations must go to the costume and hair-stylist teams.
In his dreamworld, Billy Fisher, played by Jonathan Pye, was a youth struggling to get out of his complacent, hum-drum background and to live a life that was exciting and full of challenges. Playing his last role for the Garrick before he takes up a teaching post in the Inner Hebrides, Jonathan was every essence a young man, totally dissatisfied with his life. An inveterate liar, Jonathan, as Billy, showed he even believed his own lies. Having to think on his feet whilst extricating himself from one lie whilst formulating another was extremely well done, and we even started to believe him – until the next lie, of course! As the eponymous hero, maybe the wrong word for such a character, Jonathan became Billy Fisher. This was an outstanding performance.
The rest of the Fisher family were very much a unit, too. Florence Boothroyd, the grandmother, was played by Marilyn Crowther. Marilyn is a fine actress who creates an individual, memorable character. Her dialogue with the sideboard, and her attitude to doctors and the medical profession was storytelling at its best.
David Kendrick, as Geoffrey Fisher, Billy’s father, gave us another excellent portrayal of a bluff Yorkshireman; a man who brooked no nonsense and who was totally exasperated with Billy and his attitude to life.
Matching him in support was Anne Chadwick, as Alice Fisher, Billy’s mother. She was the quintessential stay at home wife, looking after her family, waiting on them hand a foot, but always wanting the best for the family. This was another well-defined characterisation.
Billy’s girlfriend, Barbara, the one to whom he is engaged and who is wearing the engagement ring, was portrayed by Katy Taylor. Barbara was totally in thrall to Billy and accepted his stories without question. It was only when events piled on top of one another that she began to question Billy’s intentions. The scene with the aphrodisiac was very funny. A young actress, Katy is improving with each role she undertakes. Well done.
Billy’s friend and co-worker at the funeral parlour was Arthur Crabtree, played by Gary Leonard. Stepping in to the role after the unfortunate accident of Leighton Hunt, who had originally been cast in the part, Gary gave an excellent performance. He was aware of Billy’s frailties but nonetheless proved to be a loyal friend, until he was caught up in one of Billy’s more outlandish lies.
Two cameo roles were girlfriends, or, as they believed, fiancées, of Billy were Rita, played by Jenny Hardacre, and Liz, played by Rachel Bailey.
Jenny, as Liz, was a breath of fresh air on the mundane lives of the Fisher household. With her ultra-short skirt, beehive hairdo, gum chewing and bright red lipstick she was certainly a match for anyone. She certainly was, as would have been the saying in the 60s, no better than she should be. It was a superb performance.
Rachel Bailey, as Liz, was excellent. I am very impressed by Rachel. She is an actress who is improving with each role she undertakes, but more importantly, she is not afraid to undertake the small roles when not playing a leading role. This is craft learning at its best ensuring that Rachel will be an asset for any production with which she is involved.
Alan Hargreaves did a superb job in directing this play. The attention to detail was excellent and the production breathed new life into this drama. Very many congratulations.
The sound cues, with recordings of the period which a very large number in the audience would no doubt have been able to sing along to, as all the words would be known, were well chosen and timed, and the lighting highlighted each scene as required.
Billy Liar was a company show and it reached a very high standard of presentation.
Congratulations to everyone involved in its production.