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Mr Monkey sees Billy Liar at the Royal Exchange Theatre

Venue : Royal Exchange Theatre
Start date: 13th June 2014
End date : 12th July 2014
Visit date : 17th June, 2014
Billy (Harry McEntire) planning to ignore reality (Royal Exchange Theatre production photo)
Mr Monkey looking at the Billy Liar poster
Mr Monkey trotted along to the Royal Exchange Theatre for the press night of Billy Liar.

Keith Waterhouse's second novel, Billy Liar, came out in 1959. Soon after its publication Waterhouse was approached by a childhood friend, Willis Hall, about adapting the book into a three act play. The success of the play (Harold Hobson liked it so much he reviewed it twice) led to a long series of collaborations between Waterhouse and Hall.

Billy Fisher is a clerk at a firm of funeral directors in Middleton, living at home with his parents and his maternal grandmother.

He'd very much like to leave home to live a life of adventure outside Middleton - or at least get a job writing scripts for a comedian in London - but not if it involves any effort on his part.

Blessed or cursed with a fertile imagination, Billy spends most of his time telling pointlessly outrageous lies of the sort that make one gasp and stretch one's eyes (according to Billy virtually everyone he knows has had at least one leg amputated) and seldom actually benefit him. This leaves him engaged to two girls with only one ring between them, and the funeral directors wondering why their calendars haven't been posted to their clients.

The stage set shows part of the ground floor of the Fisher's family home, concentrating on the front parlour, which is equipped with many aspirational items of the late 1950s, such as a cocktail cabinet, a radio and a (small) television. There are also parts of the kitchen and hallway, and a lamp standard outside. The walls are marked out on the stage, as if they were a 1:1 scale architect's drawing.
Billy (Harry McEntire) attempting to seduce Barbara (Rebekah Hinds) (Royal Exchange Theatre production photo)
Billy (Harry McEntire) confronted by a truth  (Royal Exchange Theatre production photo) Obviously the production is very dependent on the actor playing Billy, and Harry McEntire is totally convincing as the fibbing teenager. The most outrageous lies and evasions are delivered with confidence but also with the air of someone making things up as he goes along, and his eventual collapse as everything falls to bits around him works well too.

The rest of the cast are excellent as well; the scenes where the entire Fisher family (Jack Deam, Lisa Millett and Sue Wallace) are talking across each other are wonderful, with not a word lost in the crossfire.

Other cast members have smaller roles - Aaron Anthony as Billy's friend from work, Rebekah Hinds and Katie Moore play Billy's two fianceés (middle and working class respectively), and Emily Barber is the free spirit who is the only person to actually encourage Billy to do something - but all are excellent.

Mr Monkey enjoyed the play from the start to Billy's defeated rain-sodden return home at the end, though he thought it would have been more heartbreaking if Billy hadn't consistently been an idiot throughout the play.

Billy Liar runs until 12th July 2014.

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