by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall.
Royal Exchange Theatre St Ann’s Square M2 7DH To 12 July 2014.
Mon-Fri 7.30pm Sat 8pm Mat Wed 2.30pm Sat 3.30pm.
Audio-described 5 July 3.30pm.
BSL Signed 8 July.
Captioned 3 July.
TICKETS: 0845 450 4808.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 21 June.
Looking back with understanding.
Young director Sam Yates takes no historical prisoners with his revival of Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall’s play – which the former childhood friends adapted in 1960 from Waterhouse’s 1959 novel, neatly straddling the decade divide through which new generational attitudes were leaking into English society.
Relocating things from Yorkshire to north Manchester, Yates is sceptical of late-teen Billy Fisher’s escapes from middle-class respectability. Harry McEntire’s Billy, soberly suited once he’s actually dressed, moves composedly through the tangle of lies increasingly tying him down.
Even his fantasies, some shared with his more realistic friend Arthur, seem dutiful rather than adventurous, while the quick defeat of his break for freedom, founded on another fantasy, shows why he’s as unable to match up to Liz, the quietly clear voice of a new independence – who moves to and from Middleton as he never will – as he is unwilling to commit to his parents’ favourite, the orange-eating, unimaginative, emotionally-neutered Barbara.
As for Rita, she’d tear him alive in a day –and near-enough does so in a single scene. For McEntire’s Billy, dreaming is escapism from his inability to form any relationship beyond a certain level, to commit to anything at all. No wonder his ‘dream’ job is writing snatches of material for a popular comedian.
Around him, over half a century has changed perspectives. Jack Deam realises saying ‘bloody’ (outside the expected laugh in Pygmalion) is no longer particularly funny or offensive, and settles Geoffrey’s use of the word into a portrayal of someone whose resignation seems in line with a strain of Billy’s character. Sue Wallace is similarly restrained, effectively so in an era where grandmother Florence’s dementia is no longer an easy laugh.
There’s reliable work from outside the family, with Katie Moore’s explosive Rita aptly breaking through the imagined walls which Rebekah Hinds’ Barbara respects, and past which Emily Barber’s Liz gently floats as if such bounds no longer existed.
But it’s Alice Millett as Billy’s patient mother, negotiating daily life, who emerges as the quietly heroic figures, the one keeping things on track even as life passes her by.
Arthur Crabtree: Aaron Anthony.
Liz: Emily Barber.
Geoffrey Fisher: Jack Deam.
Barbara: Rebekah Hinds.
Billy Fisher: Harry McEntire.
Alice Fisher: Lisa Millett.
Rita: Katie Moore.
Florence Boothroyd: Sue Wallace.
Director: Sam Yates.
Designer: David Woodhead.
Lighting: David Plater.
Sound/Composer: Isobel Waller-Bridge.
Movement: Ann Yee.
Dialect coach: Richard Ryder.
Fight director: Owain Gwynn.
Assistant director: Alexander Summers.