Saturday, 1 June 2013

Billy - Union Theatre - Friday 31 May *****


Sorry kids this is going to have to be brief, we’re moving house again today.

In another of a seemingly endless stream of theatrical coups, the ever wonderful Union mounts the first London revival of the 1974 musical with the heaven sent pedigree. Based on Keith Waterhouse and Willie Hall’s play Billy Liar, this has a book by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (The Likely Lads, Porridge, Auf Wiedersehen Pet), music by the legendary John Barry (Born Free, Out Of Africa and numerous Bonds including Goldfinger and Diamonds Are Forever,) and lyrics by Don Black (Diamonds Are Forever, Born Free, To Sir With Love, Sunset Boulevard, Tell Me On A Sunday, Aspects of Love).

Set over one day in Yorkshire in 1960 (Saturday May 7th to be precise), undertaker’s assistant and fantasist supreme, Billy Fisher dreams of a glamorous career as a scriptwriter in London far away from his mundane life at home with his mum, dad and gran. Juggling three fiancées, sweet homemaker Barbara, tough good time girl Rita and ambitious Liz, he copes by weaving increasingly outlandish stories whilst planning his escape to the smoke.

In the title role, Keith Ramsay is on-stage throughout and in an outrageously accomplished, incredibly physical performance full of tics and subtle nuances, he cheekily seduces the audience into siding with a womanising inveterate liar. He keeps us unsure right until the last few minutes if Billy will finally be true to his word and leave the comfortable womb of all he's sure of for the unknown pleasures of the big city.

The darkly witty script and clever melodic songs (how come the gorgeously sublime Some Of Us Belong To The Stars isn’t a standard?) keep the interest bubbling. Director Michael Strassen includes plenty of unique touches, Ricky Butt as Billy’s mum unexpectedly launching into a tap dancing routine being one of many. Butt’s is one of a myriad of delicious supporting turns including genuine Yorkshire man Adam Colbeck-Dunn as Billy’s mate Arthur, Mark Carroll as Billy’s weary father Geoffrey and the spectacular triumvirate of fiancées Katerina Stearman, Rosie Clarkson and Laura Bryars.

A lush mini five piece orchestra of strings, woodwind, piano and drums tenderly tackle John Barry’s beautiful score and Tim Dieling’s atmospheric lighting gives us all we need in the way of set. What is it with the Union and their lighting, it is consistently glorious.

Ok, that’s it, short and sweet as promised. I’m off to dismantle a sofa and lug it from one side of the block to the other.

There’s another northern musical Billy in town and he’s every equal to the other.

Booking until 29 June 2013,  an almost forgotten gem has been unearthed and is newly polished and sparkling - Billy


  1. I'm going to see this on Thursday and am really looking forward to it. It will be my first time at the Union Theatre, which does seem to be on a roll lately! Good luck with the move.

    1. You will love it. Still not sorted out new place yet, as just had a week in Scotland. Hence the lack of reviews on here. Have a great time at Billy.