SOPHIE PARROTT CDG
Billy Liar (Manchester Royal Exchange)
WINNER OF 2 MANCHESTER THEATRE AWARDS (MTAs) in 2015:
Best Actor (Harry McEntire) and Best Newcomer (Emily Barber)
Directed by Sam Yates
Billy Fisher is a 19 year-old nobody. He lives at home and has a dead-end job. He’s going somewhere only in his imagination – which he’s furnished with an elaborate fantasy world, from which lie after lie spills forth. Yet while the northern lad harbours dreams of running away to London, Billy’s plans are threatened by missing stationery and pocketed postage money, hoodwinked fiancées and, in the end, his own indecisiveness.
Keith Waterhouse’s tale of northern life in 1960s Britain captures a country on the edge of seismic change. It is a place of possibility, where for the first time young people could create a life different from that of their parents.
★★★★ The Independent, Paul Vallely:
‘There is some pitch perfect acting from [Jack] Deam, and Lisa Millett as Billy’s mother and Sue Wallace as the grandmother. The comic timing beautifully conveys the family’s demotic banalities […] The bravura performance of Harry McEntire as Billy – by turns charming, witty, urbane and disquietingly self-deluded- is a reminder that Billy does not inhabit the world of Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim but that of the stifling anger of John Osborne tinged with the black humour of Joe Orton. Katie Moore’s hard-as-painted-nails fiancee Rita recalls that too; there is a callous menace about her as well as a breathtaking vulgarity. Sam Yate’s ending to the production offers more ambiguity as to why Bill remains trapped than Waterhouse’s novel does. The ending feels bleaker. But it makes a Billy Liar for our times.’
★★★★ The Guardian, Alfred Hickling:
‘Harry McEntire is a wonderfully fidgety physical actor whose twitchiness captures the caged-animal aspect of Billy’s character. Yet you surmise that for all his big talk about barnstorming the world of variety, the chances of him actually getting on a train to the capital are on a par with Chekhov’s Olga, Masha and Irina ever booking a ticket to Moscow.
As Billy’s mum, Lisa Millet has a marvellously maternal ability to puncture her son’s fights of fancy: “You’ll need a clean shirt. They don’t have dirty necks on the BBC.” Sam Yates’s production is played admirably straight, to frequently hilarious effect. Billy can be infantile, insensitive and infuriating, and his worthwhile observations have to be extracted from a slew of stream-of-consciousness inanities. In that sense, he’s no different from the average teenage user of social media. After all these years, he’s still worth following.’
Manchester Theatre Awards, David Upton:
‘Billy Liar still fizzes with energy, fun and youth – and that’s the truth. […] This is a production bound to make a star out of a young Harry McEntire […] Fine care has been taken with casting throughout, and around Billy are family and girlfriends rooted in all-too-apparent reality. Grandmother and mother (Sue Wallace and Lisa Millett) are totems of their respective generations, father (Jack Deam) erupts in uncomprehending violence while Emily Barber, Rebekah Hinds and Katie Moore give three deeply contrasting cameos of young womanhood. The latter makes an especially heavy-ordnance blonde bombshell out of Rita in another eye-catching performance. Without word of a lie a Billy true to itself.’
★★★★ whatsonstage.com, Julia Taylor:
‘Rebekah Hinds, Katie Moore and Emily Barber play these typically naïve 1960 girls as less knowing than their modern counterparts. But they never over play it. Likewise, Sue Wallace’s grandma could easily be played over the top yet Wallace manages to keep her character this side ofsane.She gives an amusing portrayal of an old lady dreaming of the bad old days. […] The humour and observation of Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall’s play largely centres on Harry McEntire’s performance. He successfully unravels the layers of Billy’s character. He plays the comic side of the character incredibly well, taking hilarious steps to keep his womenfolk apart and when Barbara and Rita do meet, there’s unforgettable fireworks.[…] Director Sam Yates brings out the laugher of the piece but he’s also aware that beneath the comedy, is a tragic figure and the poignant moments creep up on you and leave a lasting impact.’
‘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 Manchester Review (Peter Wild):‘Jack Deam’s description of a deathbed scene that we are not privy to – is worth the price of admission alone… A strong production with an exemplary cast.’*** 3 Stars, Manchester Evening News (Alex Hibbert):‘The supporting cast’s interaction with Billy does create some great moments, and each individual member – including a brilliantly frenzied Katie Moore as Rita and a frustrated Jack Deam as Billy’s long-suffering father Geoffrey – couldn’t be more convincing as the conventional characters they play.’
★★★★ The Good Review (Tracy Lowe):
‘Harry McEntire performs with a great deal of charm. […]McEntire also does justice to the more emotional scenes. […] The rest of the cast are absolutely outstanding. Jack Deam perfectly embodies the impotent rage of Billy’s father, Geoffrey. Rebekah Hinds is fantastic as the prudish, reserved Barbara, one of Billy’s fiancées. But the two stand-out performances came from Aaron Anthony as Billy’s friend Arthur, and Katie Moore as Rita, Billy’s surplus betrothed. Both were only on stage briefly, but made a strong impact. Moore especially had a very special energy; the stage positively crackled when she was performing.’
★★★★ Northern Soul (Lucia Cox):
‘The cast are sublime under the direction of Sam Yates […] The sad, lamenting ending is a terrible punch to the guts.’
Photographs: Jonathan Keenan