Review - Billy Liar: living in a fantasy world
Right: Natalie Stephenson and Adam Hellier
By Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall.
Directed by Dawn China.
Javeenbah Theatre Company.
Season runs until August 5. Bookings: Phone (07) 55960300. www.javeenbah.org.au
On the eve of the Swinging Sixties the UK – especially in the regions – was largely a socially conservative country, where nice people lived by rules.
Emerging rock and pop talents, such as The Beatles and the Rolling Stones, might have been reaping the hedonistic rewards of free love, but elsewhere it more often came at a price.
In the case of Billy Fisher’s decent well brought up Yorkshire family that price was a ring – first an engagement ring and then a wedding ring – but this 19-year-old seldom lived in the real boring world.
Billy – who more than deserved the moniker Billy Liar – lived in a fantasy world where he could be anything or anyone that his vivid imagination could conjure up. The problem was there was no Border Force between his fantasy world and reality, so lies came pouring out of him like water out of the tap.
Such was the premise of Keith Waterhouse’s carefree 1959 novel, which became the darker 1963 stage play, both called Billy Liar, and later a film and even a TV sit-com.
Now Gold Coast theatre director, Dawn China, has brought Billy to the Javeenbah Theatre Company in a rollicking new production. The opening night crowd, were rolling in the aisles, although the play has a disturbing underbelly. Billy – who has two girls thinking he belongs to them and a third coming from London to stake her claim – lies and cheats his way through this endearing black comedy.
While it is to an extent easy to understand Billy’s (Adam Hellier) need for a fantasy bolt hole – he’s got two girl’s demanding, one ring, a dad who despairs and a dead-end job at the local undertakers – his ridiculous lies seem socially suicidal.
Adam Hellier does a good solid job of giving a rather dark, but ultimately funny Billy, who at turns earns our sympathy and dismay. However, it’s his interaction – or maybe lack of it – which cranks up the humor as his two immediate girlfriends Barbara (Sherree Halliwell) and Rita (Naomi Thompson) and his long suffering dad Geoffrey (Peter Maden) beg him to conform.
Sherree Halliwell plays the orange eating, cottage dreaming, virginal Barbara for laughs, while Naomi Thompson’s Rita comes across as a girl who would go 10 rounds for the man whom she might or might not love, but definitely believes she owns. Then there’s mum and dad, Peter Maden (Geoffrey) and Linda Furse (Alice), who give us a good solid post-war middle-aged Yorkshire husband and wife.
I particularly liked Peter Maden’s upright, hardworking Yorkshire breadwinner whose tether’s end is careering toward him like a railway train.
On the fringes there’s ageing grandma Florence (Virginia Leaver), work mate Arthur (Tallen Hall), who urges him to sort out the business with the bosses calendars and yet another girlfriend Liz (Natalie Stephenson).
Grandma talks to the TV in her dotage, Arthur’s pleas about the calendars demonstrates Billy’s tenancy to stuff anything he’s given in a cupboard (he’s was meant to post them off last Christmas) and Liz represents the future.
In the stage play Liz’s part is small – but Natalie looking good in a mini and kinky boots gives a satisfying cameo – but it’s an important sign of things to come.
Unlike Barbara and Rita, who want Billy to settle down with them, Liz urges him to run away with her and start a new – albeit married – life in London.
(In the 1963 film Liz was played by Julie Christie, who was a key player in the swinging London 60s scene, and Tom Courtney was Billy).
The show – apart from being funny – is a fascinating glimpse into a world long gone and a real eye-opener to the way we were and will probably never be again.
I must also commend the production values, including Barry Gibson and Dawn China’s set design, Colin Crow’s lighting and Dawn China’s direction which held everything together.