ACT in Action Issue 17
from insurance book and teapot to Billy’s hoard of calendars. (Did Grandma have a pint pot of tea, though? I didn’t notice this amusingly ridiculous plot detail even though it was alluded to, but perhaps this was simply masked on stage). Florence Boothroyd was played by Doreen Robinson, the first of five guest players for Manchester Athenæum’s production, whose fragile performance of the ailing old lady worked exceptionally well. Immediately we were endeared to her character, which was all the more heart-rending when she took ill in Act 2, and her demise in Act 3. Her depiction of Florence’s attack was very subtle and underplayed, and which worked effectively. I know that it’s rude to ask a lady’s age, but having seen Angela Lansbury professionally play Madam Arcati at the age of 89 (and have her lines piped in an ear-piece), a huge round of applause must be given to Doreen for her work in Billy Liar. Whilst we had odd lapses in dialogue, they most certainly were forgiven by a very appreciative audience! Geoffrey Fisher, presented as a loud northern father, was played by Marl Lees. A very natural and earthy presentation, it is easy to make this important character one dimensional, but which was avoided in this production. With a convincing accent and nonchalance to his son’s daydreams, I do feel that sometimes there could be more attack to show his frustration at his son. It was lovely to see the caring and gentle side of Geoffrey’s nature in Act 3, and ultimately his anger at his son. Jane Parker played Alice compassionately, with a hint of vulnerability. Her life is completely turned around in the space of 24 hours at the death of her mother, and her ability to handle these difficult scenes was sensitive and emotional. Whilst still retaining humour, (tinned milk), Jane played Alice precisely and convincingly, with natural intonation, to deliver the dialogue with ease. Her scenes in Act 3 were simply heart-rending, and had the audience itself on the brink of tears. Whilst there are no big monologues or real dramatic moments for Billy, the challenge for Joel Mallen was the fact that Billy is an exceptionally difficult and complex character to play. Lying and deceit coming naturally to Billy, and he bamboozled those around him with his quick-thinking lies and make-believe stories. The presentation of Billy worked effectively with just the right amount of panic when he was ultimately exposed, and excellent facial expressions which gave truth to his lies. There were times as I was watching this production, when I thought that Billy could be lapsing into a pathological condition - other than just his compulsive lying and thieving, which I think the director was trying to show by Billy’s regular running of hands through hair, holding head as if in pain, and his final outburst. It certainly had us questioning Billy’s motives and whether or not he had control over his situation. A great performance from Joel. Well done. Billy’s relationship with the three girls was markedly different, which worked well leaving the audience wondering whether he had ‘real’ feelings for them, or anyone around him. The ‘passion pill’ scenes were most amusing and handled brilliantly. Arthur Crabtree’s changing opinion of Billy was developed well, with meaning extracted from his dialogue and a pacey ‘letter’ scene and chase which did not lose momentum. (How many audiences could remember Godfrey Winn today, but a laugh was gained nonetheless!) The ‘Trouble at t’mill’ exchange showed effectively the pair’s friendship and provided a great contrast in Act 3 when they disagreed about Rita, which showed some well-developed characterisation from Alastair Brewsher. Billy’s lying extends to his three girlfriends, played completely differently by Jennifer Jones (Barbara), Chezzelle O’Neill (Rita) and Jennifer Savill (Liz). Barbara, ‘the one with the oranges,’ was played diminutively and meekly. Fantasising about their cottage in Devon, and their future family together, Jennifer’s portrayal of Barbara was saccharine in the perfect amount – an important contrast to the two other women. Her reactions to Billy were excellent, with some lovely one-line putdowns to his advances, and a carefully considered mannerisms and subtle humour -just how many oranges does Barbara eat in the show?
Chezelle’s portrayal of Rita was markedly different, and rightly so. Brash, loud and rough (with ‘that skirt’) her no-nonsense, angry-from- the-word-go portrayal was perfectly pitched to instil fear into Billy -and quite a few of the audience too. Although a fool for Billy’s lies, the audience certainly sympathised with her – which is again difficult as it’s so easy to make this character (and all the girls, actually) one dimensional, and, in Rita’s case, ‘just shouting.’ Her abrasiveness was pitched just right and much subtler when with Arthur. A great job. Liz’s character is more of a cameo role, but an important one, nonetheless. I’ve previously seen Jenny play Rita in a production of Billy Liar elsewhere but her portrayal of Liz was completely different: and different from Billy’s other two girlfriends here. Kind, softly spoken, caring and seemingly wanting the best for Billy, Jenny’s characterisation in Act 3 was lovely and teased out a different side to Billy than the audience had seen before. A small role which Jenny made the most of. Thank you to everyone at Manchester Athenæum for looking after us, and for a lovely evening. Your welcome was most warm, and I look forward to my next visit. THE SOUND OF MUSIC New Mills AO&DS Director: Sheryl Haydock-Howorth Musical Director: Claire Sweeney Choreographer: Sheryl Haydock-Howorth The Derbyshire hills were alive with Richard Rodger’s evergreen music enjoyed by a capacity house. The recognisable locations were captured in Stage a Show scenery and Thespis Theatrical Costume delightfully dressed the characters. The production benefitted from the lighting and sound designs finishing off the theatrical picture. Traditionally directed, this show, with fairy tale values, is a crowd pleaser for which a strong cast is needed. The M.D and the fine orchestra encapsulated Rodgers’ well-known score. The ensemble, and the sisters of Nonnberg Abbey, contributed to the developing do–re-mi story. Angela
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