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Good luck to Billy Liar - he's going to need it!



Review by David Munro

ONE must assume that the reason for reviving this antiquated , stereotyped play was to show case Mr Ralph Little.

I have never heard of Mr Little until now, but I am assured, on good authority, that he is a respected TV comedian. Certainly, on last night’s showing, Mr Little is an amiable young man, with good comedic talents, but to me he lacks the charisma necessary to cut through the fustian that is Billy Liar.

Also, he has to dispel the memory of his predecessors in the role and however much talent he may have, he is no Albert Finney, Tom Courtney or even Michael Crawford.

Nor do I think he has talent enough yet to carry the play which, as most people will know by now, revolves round a daydreaming, simple-minded young man, who is ultimately let down by his fantasy world when a girl shatter his illusions.

The period and the play itself is firmly situated in the post-war era when eccentric old grandmothers, who talked to the furniture, were thought funny and their death brought a frisson to the audience.

As it is today, this is pure sit-com material and most respectable sit-com writers would shy away from such clichéd and hackneyed situations.

Then there is the solid working class mother and father who don’t understand their son , the good girl who loves him, and the bad girl who lets him down.

When the play was written, such characters and situations were accepted, but, since then, the theatre has grown up, and it takes a great deal of directorial skill and a very talented actor/comedian, with a strong supporting cast, to revive them successfully.

Sadly, this production lacks these. The direction, by Anna Linstrum, is pedestrian, to put it politely; the characters speak their lines and take up their positions without any semblance of reality, and give an air of despondency to the evening’s proceedings which destroys all the comedy situations inherent in the plot that the authors, Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall, have tried to create.

Mr Little does manage to extract some laughs from his lines, but he never convinces one that this was a boy with dreams and a longing to escape from his humdrum world into something better.

The main impression he gives is that he wants to escape the mundane acting around him and get into a better part in a better play.

The production is announced as being prior to London. Well, I wish it luck. It is going to need it.

Billy Liar, by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall. Director, Anna Linstrum; Designer, Norman Coates; Lighting, Leonard Tucker; Sound, Ed Brimley; Music, Jeremy Sams.
WITH: Ralph Little; Tracie Bennet; Paul Copley; Joanna Page; Matt Hickey; Rachel Leskovac; Sarah Chum; Doreen Mantle.
Producer: Ambassador Theatre Group present a Churchill Theatre Bromley/ Theatre Royal Windsor production.
Richmond Theatre, The Little Green, Richmond, Surrey.
Monday, July 28 to Saturday, July 3. Evenings: Mon – Sat, 7.45pm; Mat: Wed and Sat: 2.30pm. Box Office: 020 8940 0088.

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