1 ‘You just think. goon.
he‘s just unbelievable. But Billy Liar lives it.does it and people like to see someone breaking out of reality into fantasy.‘ Paul Wyett is steppinginto shoes which have been worn by Tom Courtenay. Albert Finney. Michael ‘friend of Webber’ Crawford. amongst others. Billy Fisher. the Wakefield undertaker‘s assistant with two fiance'es and a knack for cmbroidering the truth. has captured the collective imagination for over 30 years. From a novel written in 1959. tothe stage. screen. TV series. American sitcom and even a musical with music by John Barry. he has come to symbolise part of the wider British sensibility.
Paul Wyett is by co-incidence another Wakefield boy. and he is currently pacingthe boards in a National Theatre touring production. It‘s a sparse compact show which leaves most of the comedy and tragedy up to the actors. ‘Most people have seen the film but it's completely different on stage.‘ says Wyctt. ‘All the fantasies are verbal. It‘s a bit like a roller-coaster ride. You‘re on stage for the whole performance and you have to get on what he‘s getting on and follow it through. Sometimes the pace is very fast and you have to sustain that energy.‘
According to author. Keith Waterhouse. Billy is now in his 50s and working as a public relations executive in Shepford. But Billy Liar has taken his place in fictional
history as the patron saint
l ofthe small-town boy with large-scale dreams.
i ‘Sometimesthe audience
laugh at you. sometimes
i with you. but I suppose it‘s 1 just pure escapism.‘
’ (Beatrice Colin)
; Billy Liar. Tron Theatre,
I Glasgow. Tue 10—5101 15
To quote her own by-llne, Claire Dowie started off as a poet, became a comedian, ran out of punchlines and started writing plays. She now performs her own work, and from the harrowing monologue of Adult Child/Dead Child to her brand new show, Death and Dancing she has impressed audiences both here and in America with her raw but hilarious pieces of that genre hybrid, stand-up theatre.
‘lt‘s very new and very different,‘ says Dowie‘s inspirational mentor and director, Colin Watkeys. ‘We‘re not playing around with sets and movement, but with emotions and humour. It‘s very upfront and uses the audience as another character.’
Her new show is about the chance meeting between an American man and a British woman in London. Both are called Max and both are gay. For the first time, Dowie has written fortwo performers. She is aided and abetted by Hawaiian stand-up comedian, Mark Plnkosh, who after seeing her perform invited her to Honolulu to work with him. Lighter and funnierthan her earlierwork, it is, howeveranother perspective on the same theme. ‘lt’s about two characters who think society controls their gender and therefore controls everything else about them.‘ says Dowie. ‘The underlying theme of everything I‘ve done is about people who don‘t fit into the norm. It‘s about misfits.’
Staged with very few props, Watkeys‘s approach to direction
expressive theatre to create a more immediate style. ‘Humour doesn‘t distance the audience but has the opposite effect,‘ he explains. ‘People always try to hide their emotions but actors always attempt to express them. i We make it seem very real and many people find it hard to believe that the performers are only acting. They think it must be autobiographical.
‘It stops us looking at the people as victims,‘ agrees Dowie, ‘it‘s funny ha-ha and funny sad.’ Jokes that tickle then stick in yourthroat. (Beatrice Colin)
rejects the traditional form of l
Death and Dancing, CCA, Glasgow, Sat ‘ 13—14 Nov;
l Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Wed
I 1B-Sat21 Nov.
,. ‘ Sandy Hellson: unashamedly elitist
“Somebody said during the Festival “Ah, Fifth Estate, the only theatre company where you have to pass an ID test to buy a seat",‘ recounts Sandy Neilson, director in said company. It‘s the sort of anecdote which fits in well with Neilson‘s bold declaration of intent: ‘We aim to go back to the theatre of metaphor, literary theatre, one hesitates to use the word “elitist” but we embrace that unashamedly.‘
To celebrate its second birthday this uncompromising company is to produce another play by Bernard Da Costa, who wrote its inaugural play
43 The List 6 — 19 November 1992
We, Charles XII. This latest piece, The ‘ Consul of Butterflies is, according to Nielson, ‘a witty, sharp and acerbic i comedy about the old age of Beau Brummel, who was exiled after calling the Prince of Wales a fat slob and ended up as an honorary consul in France, where he subsequently died.‘
‘lt’s set in an age where youth and beauty had great influence, and were powerful commodities, but it’s particularly relevant today, since it’s about the hollowness of the whole youth culture and how that relates to the problems of growing old, of the wastage of wisdom and experience, sacrificed on the altar of youth and immediacy.‘
According to Neilson, De Costa ‘deals with images beautifully‘, but also presents the directors of his work with huge challenges. ‘He‘ll write “a frozen plain“ and somehow this has got to be conveyed on stage,‘ explains Neilson. Having successfully dealt with ‘the 3 image of the mad bastard Swedish King‘ in We, Charles XII, Neilson is in a good position to translate the central image of the current play, ‘that of a butterfly, emerging from the chrysalis, spreading its wings and having a short life’. And with an ambitious birthday production like that, confidence that Fifth Estate will last a little longer is clearly pretty high. (Stephen Chester)
The Consul Df Butterflies, Netherbow Theatre, Edinburgh.11—28 November.
Gerrard McArthur directed by Antony McDonald
When Harold Pinter‘s first full-length play. The Birthday Party, hit the London stage in 1958 it was greeted with a fair degree of bewilderment. Accused of being ‘half—gibberish‘ by the critics, the play flopped and it was another couple of years before the writer’s enigmatic, menacing, semi-surreal vision began to be appreciated. This side of Twin Peaks, it seems time to give the early Pinter a second look. ‘It’s very much in that world of writers like David Lynch,‘ says designer-turned-director Antony McDonald. ‘We’re much more prepared to accept ambiguity. Our way of thinking has changed.’ McDonald is the latest in a line of designers encouraged by the Citizens’ to branch out into directing. With a formidable track-record in design for dance (London Contemporary. Siobhan Davies), opera (Scottish Opera, Australian Opera) and theatre (RSC, National, American Repertory), he is bringing his experience ofthe different forms to The Birthday Party. ‘The wonderful thing about dancers is that they’re so present in a space,‘ he says. ‘Getting people to do much less would be one - of my aims, just because people in space are very interesting. Similarly there is a freedom in performances by opera singers, I think because so much of the emotion is carried in the music. They don‘t feel that they have I to do a great deal.’ 3 His will be a generally stripped-down interpretation, taking his visual cues from the simple, representational but distorted paintings of Francis Bacon. ‘l’m not very interested in naturalism,’ he says, ‘I find the play more poetic than that. An enormous amount of it is in the language, so I’ve tried to take away all the extra veneer — the ketchup bottles and all that. Pinter takes very mundane, ordinary conversations and whittles them away. I’ve really gone for it being not surreal, but pared down in a way that he does. There will be strangeness there from the beginning just because it’s not set particularly naturalistieally.’ (Mark Fisher) The Birthday Party, Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow, Thurs 12 Nov—Sun 6 Dec.