Review: Billy Liar, Royal Exchange

“You’ll need a clean shirt, they don’t have dirty necks on the BBC”

Hmmm. Trekking my way through this list can prove a little hard-going when it throws up plays like these… Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall’s Billy Liar might have been acclaimed as a Great British classic but in Sam Yates’ production for the Royal Exchange, its charms weren’t immediately clear to me. Much of it lies in the play itself I feel, a slice of late-1950s northern life from which dreamer Billy frequently escapes through the flights of fancy in his mind.

Trapped by immutable social strictures and parental expectation, he fantasises and lies his way through the day, as he dreams of leaving the day job (at the undertakers) and moving to London to become a writer for comedians. But the excitement is in the dreaming rather than the doing, so a strange state of affairs exists where he spins and invents and even destroys his actual world without any real sense that he might actually get up and go. Continue reading “Review: Billy Liar, Royal Exchange”

Review: Blindsided, Royal Exchange

“He puts his hand in your knickers and promises the world”

Lord this was grim. Hard-going, unlikeable and sterile – much of Simon Stephens’ writing has felt like this for me (as opposed to his adaptations) and so it can be something of a slog until one breaks through the revelatory moment that he often provides. But Blindsided never really got there, despite some excellent work from Julie Hesmondhalgh – making a bold move now that Hayley Cropper is coming a cropper – as the adult Cathy who has comes to terms with something shocking.

We first meet Cathy as a much younger woman though and see the seeds of what will happen coming from a tough upbringing in an unforgiving part of Stockport and her meeting with a darkly enigmatic man. But there’s something very artificial about the whole thing – there’s nothing discernible connecting the two versions of Cathy we meet – her rebirth is too much of a copout without any hint of redemptive quality in her – and the world(s) around her are poorly populated, the supporting character mere wisps. Continue reading “Review: Blindsided, Royal Exchange”

Review: Port, National Theatre

“It’s Stockport, it’s England”

He’s here, he’s there, Simon Stephens is everywhere. Between a prolific rate of new writing, adaptations of other texts and revivals of his older work, Stephens has been a remarkably constant presence on our stages for the past year or so and now it is the turn of the National Theatre to get in on the act as Marianne Elliott revives his 2002 play Port. Set in his native Stockport, it visits Racheal at roughly two-yearly intervals from the ages of 11 through to 24, as she grows up in a rough world. 

A victim of domestic violence, her mother leaves the family; a juvenile delinquent with a taste for robbing, her younger brother just can’t keep out of trouble; disillusioned with his lot, her father is still present but has checked out emotionally; against all of this Racheal plots to escape the narrow world of Stockport through hard work, through marriage, through whatever it takes but of course, life is never that easy as cold reality comes a-knocking at the door every time. Continue reading “Review: Port, National Theatre”