Judging by the full theatre on the night I attended, the story of Billy Liar, serial fibber, fantasist and ladies man, remains as popular as ever it was. It’s testament to the quality of the writing that the story has been adapted for film, television and musical theatre. However, despite these credentials this current production by Middle Ground Theatre Company is a shining example of how such a cracking play can be ruined by a lazy production.
In Billy Liar there is lot of responsibility on the leading man to carry the bulk of the play and drive the performance. Sadly Nathan Hannan fails, somewhat miserably, in this task with a poor performance lacking character, humour and presence.
Despite his irresponsible behaviour and penchant for lying, Billy should be likeable and exude charm in abundance. Hannan shows none of his. His Billy is nothing short of irritating and it’s difficult to believe he can persuade one girl to marry him, let alone three. Also disappointing is Helen Fraser as Billy’s mum Alice. Her performance is quiet and reserved, totally at odds with the energetic nature of the play.
More successful, however, is Julia Mallam as Barbara, one of Billy’s fiancés. Mallam’s portrayal of this young and naive girl is excellent, meaning the play comes to life whenever she is on the stage.
Likewise, Sally Saunders is extremely funny as Florence, Billy’s old and slightly dotty Grandmother and James Morley as Billy’s father improves hugely as the evening progresses. The remainder of the cast perform well, but lack real opportunity to shine.
Michael Lunney’s direction is muddled and slow and he appears to lack the understanding of the nature of farcical comedy. However, he does make good use of the standard set, designed by himself which, although not spectacular, is efficient and fit for purpose. It’s unfortunate then that Bob Hodges' lighting fails to light the cast properly at a pivotal moment during the final scene.
It’s a shame that this production falters on so many elements. The actual script by [Keith Waterhouse] and Willis Hall is nifty, clever and extremely funny but in this production much of the comedy is lost due to poor direction and poor delivery and for the same reason some of the more poignant moments fail to leave an impact.
A hugely disappointing experience!
- Malcolm Wallace