BILLY THE KID
by Michael Morpurgo adapted by Tony Graham.
Unicorn Theatre 147 Tooley Street SE1 2HZ To 30 October 2011.
Tue-Sun 1.30pm alsoThu, Sat 5pm.
Post-show Discussion 26 Oct.
Runs 1hr No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7645 0560.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 23 October.
Strong revival of play for 8+.
Since its first round at the Unicorn in 2007, Tony Graham’s kicked his adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s football story into shape, disposing of the interval and tightening the material. If it’s no longer a game of two halves, there’s still all to play for in the new version.
Young Sam’s keen and cocky, seeming full of confidence and footballing ambition. So when he comes to kick at a goal chalked on the park-wall, he’s ready to mock the shambling old man on the park-bench.
He mocks him all the more when the old man claims to have been a famed footballer of yore known as Billy the Kid. But he becomes intrigued as the story takes Sam, and the audience, through Billy’s career. Smilingly tolerant, ambling around the stage hillside, fondly remembering, and wisely tutoring the lad, Dudley Sutton’s Billy lights up at memories of his early kickabouts in the park. And, now more dependent on the bottle than the ball, he still manages a challenge of two as he tackles the young man’s apparent certainty.
Sam’s a harder character to shadow. It emerges his confidence is a mask, covering uncertainty. Sam Donovan has to keep dodging out of character to play various people from Billy’s life, and some of the scenes – especially the impact of war – are perfunctory.
A pity, because the cross-generational theme, the question of confidence and the use of experience, arise naturally from this pair’s meetings. Then there’s the end of Billy’s career; the world outside the stadium can alter the direction of a footballer’s life. It’s this that marks the gap between Billy, kicked around by life, and Sam, still seeing life as a straightforward matter.
Donovan handles the non-Sam cameos reliably, while charting the ways his encounters with Billy gradually presents his main character with a wider perspective both of the beautiful game and understanding of other people.
Tony Graham’s production – his last as Artistic Director at Unicorn, where he has been responsible for an active and varied programme – captures the contrasting moods of a life largely past and another waiting nervously to begin.
Billy: Dudley Sutton.
Sam: Sam Donovan.
Director: Tony Graham.
Designer: Adam Wiltshire.
Lighting: Phil Clarke.
Sound/Music: John Avery.
Movement: Mia Theil Have.