Our review – you’re sure to see a family member you recognise!
Our theatre reviewer and culture vulture guest blogger Lorna laughed so much it made her face hurt, giving it a four star review.
Based on the 1959 novel by acclaimed writer Keith Waterhouse, Billy Liar tells the troubles of young northern lad Billy Fisher trying to make sense of the world he finds himself in.
The play centres around the Fisher household which consists of Billy, his hardy mother Alice – who seems to let him get away with too much and his hot headed dad Geoffrey, whose levels of patience with his son are quickly diminishing.
Billy’s grandmother Florence Boothroyd, who takes her tea by the pint pot and hates food waste, completes the family unit.
Pathological liar and perpetual daydreamer Billy left grammar school only to be unwillingly pushed straight into the world of work by his father, ending up as a lowly clerk at the local undertakers Shadrack and Duxbury.
Bored by his job and the mundanity of his life Billy creates his own fantasy world and lurches from one tall tale to the next, often without the foresight to know he’ll be found out soon enough.
His latest fable to his parents is that he has been offered a job in London, script writing for a comedian they’ve never heard of. He dreams of moving there to make it big and have his talents recognised.
However it seems he has made commitments elsewhere as he lands himself in the hottest water yet. Billy has managed to find himself engaged to two girls at once, neither of whom he seems particularly fussed with, for it is the ‘scruffy’ and absent Liz to whom his heart truly belongs.
Not to mention the fact that his mother thinks he’s too young to marry and his father gives him an ear bashing about how he’ll ever be able to support a wife!
The contenders in question are the prim and proper Barbara – who is in danger of a vitamin c overdose from the amount of oranges she eats. Boring as much as she is polite, Billy has convinced Barbara they will marry and live in a cottage in Devon. With the ring on her finger and an orange in hand (at all times) Barbara heads to the Fisher household to meet the family.
In contrast, girlfriend number two is the bolshy and tempestuous Rita, to whom Billy has spun the tale that her engagement ring is at the jewellers for a resize. When Barbara and Rita collide explosively it all goes pear shaped for Billy, then a tragic turn of events bring things back down to earth.
The latest incarnation of Billy Liar, directed by Sam Yates, is perfectly cast with particularly memorable performances from Harry McEntire as Billy and Katie Moore as Rita.
The staging and set is spot on as ever at The Royal Exchange, making you feel immediately at home in the unremarkable and true to the period living room of the Fisher family.
Much like your granny’s house the set immediately relaxes you, but you’re soon disrupted by the entrance of the characters and woken up to the dramas of everyday life from a unique vantage point.
My favourite thing about the play is that the characters and the family dynamics are as true now as they were in the 1960s and I defy anyone not to be able to relate one of the characters to their own family. Whether it’s your hard working dad who swears between every other word and is losing his hair an at alarming rate; or your grandma who lived through the aftermath of a world war and can’t understand why the youth of the next generation dare whinge over a thing – typified by my own nana’s favourite catchphrase “you don’t know you’re born”.
Billy Liar runs from 13th June – 12th July 2014. For more information, to book tickets and for a full cast list, click here.
Photographs: Jonathan Keenan for The Royal Exchange